More refusal to plug junk foods, maybe

The connection between popular animated characters and the eager marketing of, well, everything is hardly new. An entire industry has been built upon bringing kids’ favorite shows to life in a myriad of ways: toys, books, music, stage shows, and even food.

If casting a glance around to your nearest fast food restaurant or supermarket isn’t enough to remind you of the character-food connection, let us recall the recent spate of big licensed brands realizing that the American public just may hold them accountable for recommending (or serving) unhealthy foods. Why, Disney made a pledge to go trans-fat free last year and this year Shrek was taken to task for hawking both M&Ms and fitness. The backlash against character branding on unhealthy foods is becoming more frequent.

(Who woulda thunk it? I mean, people getting upset about things like our kids’ favorite heroes telling them to eat junk? What are the odds?)

As usual—because I’m a fickle, fickle person—I’m of two minds about this. On the one hand, yes, please stop hawking empty calories to my children. On the other hand, fellow parents, I’m pretty sure those groceries don’t leap into your cart of their own volition; if you don’t want your kids eating it, here’s an idea: don’t buy it. But that’s a whole ‘nother conversation.

This past week saw big strides in terms of the industry putting its collective foot down. First Discovery Kids pledged to license only to healthy food options, then Nickelodeon followed suit, with Cartoon Network coming in to make it a trifecta.

Is this great news? Absolutely. Is it perfection? Well, have your shaker of salt at the ready, of course. Do read through the various stories for all the details—Discovery Kids will still allow licensing of their properties for “occasional sweets such as birthday cakes;” Nickelodeon’s new guidelines have been announced but won’t go into effect until 2009, and they, too, are calling for an exemption for special occasions (most notably, Halloween); Cartoon Network also leaves themselves the “special occasion sweets” loophole.

It’s progress, to be sure. Now, who do we go after about that whole meals-with-a-toy thing that has plagued my existence ever since becoming a parent…?

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