Friday, May 18, 2007

Harkin blames Shrek for chunky children

Iowa's Senator Tom Harkin has decided that Shrek is to blame for the increase in childhood obesity, since the cartoon ogre and other such characters promote the sales of "junk foods" such as McDonald's happy meals (which, I might add, now offer more healthful versions of the same). He's against lots of other cartoons as well, for as putting their characters' faces on a brand name of cheese curl snacks and countless other nasty, inedible substances children crave...

I hate to break it to the senator, but, as a kid, I liked eating that crap even before I saw television or comic book advertisements for, say, Hostess Ho-Hos. I could have happily existed on a diet of Froot Loops even before I knew there was some annoying big-beaked bird promoting them. They were sugary, and that meant yummy. I still, to this day, enjoy the occasional can of Spaghetti-Os, and I have no clue who promoted it through the years. All I know is it was "the neat new spaghetti you can eat with a spoon," and that I still say, "Uh, Oh!" when I get that craving.

Normal kids have abysmal taste in foods. They could eat fatty and sugary garbage all day long, and be as happy as... well, gee, a kid in a candy store.

But that's not really the primary reason this generation of kids is getting so tubby. Kids of the past few generations have put on increasing weight because... wait for it... nobody really gets physical, any more. As a rich and busy nation, we see children being driven clear across town to school, either in buses or in Mommy's minivan/SUV. Kids expect to be driven even a puny half-mile, out of Mommy's fear mischief may befall the tot, unlike in years past, when kids could pretty much find a bit of fun right outside their doors, regardless of where they lived (anybody else remember playing hockey, stickball or frisbee in the streets, between bursts of automobile traffic?)

Add to that, there is less and less time during school days for kids to become genuinely, spontaneously active. Recess? fuhgeddaboudit. It's programmed and dull as dishwater. Some schools won't even let the kids play tag, for fear of some kid either having his anatomy or his feelings hurt. The lawsuit threat looms heavy, but carrying it around burns no calories. So, kids sit on their collective hindquarters in a desk or car seat for as much as ten hours per day (not including time watching television or playing on the computers at home).

If Senator Harkin really wanted to do something about roly-poly runts, he might start asking a few more questions about physical activities other than the elbow-bends middle-class kids have done for five generations or so. And, for crying out loud, stop blaming fictional characters for causing real, human failings. The advertisements are more likely symptomatic than causal.

And, besides, a responsible set of parents will teach kids better habits, even amid all the garbage going into the kids' heads from advertisers. If the kids are still eating too much sugar and fat, it isn't the fault of the manufacturers -- it's the enabling parents. Mom and Dad could always have packed a sensible, nutritious lunch, if they had cared to. Many of them do.

This is Dan Quayle and the immoral Murphy-Brown-unwed-mother thing all over again, isn't it?

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