Obesity Police vs. Tony the Tiger

Published October 18, 2011

Remember Hoodrat? He was the seven-year old who stole his grandmother’s car for a joyride back in 2008. I don’t know how many underage kids are stealing cars, but it’s doubtful Hoodrat is an isolated case. Should the government step in to regulate automotive advertising to avert copycat offenses?

Of course not. But something similar is being proposed in Washington.

Regulatory agencies have formed a working group on obesity, and are proposing significant changes in how foodstuffs are marketed, targeted, advertised, and sold. The working group is comprised of representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Federal Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Federal Trade Commission.

The interagency request for comments is subtitled “Preliminary Proposed Nutrition Principles to Guide Industry Self-Regulatory Efforts.” Their argument goes something like this: “Reduce sugar, salt, and fats in foods marketed to kids or cease marketing to them.” In other words, eliminate Tony the Tiger, Ronald McDonald, Toucan Sam, sports figures, and other characters pimping for foods deemed fattening and unhealthy or significantly change your products. Voila! No more fat kids!

Would this mean no more adorable polar bears in Coca-Cola commercials? No more Santa Claus and his sleigh-bells appearing in fast-food and candy ads?

In fact, many of the foods already accepted by the Womens, Infants, and Children program come under fire by the interagency group as too fattening. Oatmeal? Heck, even noted diabetic and kindly grandfather icon Wilford Brimley promotes that stuff.

Could it be that the advertising of food blamed for obesity in Hoodrat’s generation is also the same medium responsible for prompting the pudgy young gangsta to swipe his granny’s car? If so, shouldn’t the advertising of vehicles be closely monitored as well?

To answer that last question – yes, but only monitored by the industry that took it upon itself several years ago to pull a Guy Ritchie-directed commercial that featured youngsters behind the wheel of a high-flying Corvette. It was a cool ad. Cute and expensive, too. But it only aired during the 2005 Super Bowl, and was yanked after viewer complaints convinced GM’s marketing gurus the negative fallout was too great to continue airing it.

One wishes a similar campaign had been waged against that creepy Burger King mascot long before the fast-food chain put him out to pasture earlier this year. But, in fact, our nation’s fast-food restaurants have been offering healthier menu selections for years.

And yet the forces of government presumably must battle the rising tide of blubber in our school-age children, blaming advertising for promoting unhealthy caloric intake and inactive lifestyles. This begs the question: Do overweight teachers and school administrators also promote obesity by making it appear as normative? What about fat parents? Should government regulators – pardon the pun – weigh-in on these fronts as well?

Where does a well-intentioned government stop its incursions into every nook and cranny of the body politic? Even Gov. Snyder is waging war against obesity.

I’m all for promoting healthy eating and robust living, but perhaps instead of government mandating a choice between substituting ingredients and altering advertising, perhaps they should allow the industry and the broadcasters airing their commercials to resurrect the old Schoolhouse Rock animated shorts. I’m already trying to find a word that rhymes with “orange.”

Bruce Edward Walker ([email protected]) is managing editor of The Heartland Institute’s InfoTech & Telecom News.