Friday, January 20, 2006

Sponge Bob in the Dock

As you may have heard, the food police are after Sponge Bob. More specifically, a "public interest" group called The Center for Science in the Public Interest is threatening to file a multi-million dollar lawsuit against Viacom (which airs Sponge Bob on its Nickelodeon cable network), and Kellogg, the cereal manufacturer. The center claims that the companies are engaging in deceptive and unfair marketing, by using cartoon characters to sell sugary cereals and other junk foods.

With a name like "The Center for Science in the Public Interest," it's a foregone conclusion that the organization is anti-business, anti-capitalism, and insistent that it must save Americans from those evil corporations. Give me a break. Judging from their shrill rhetoric, you'd think that kids were being brainwashed by Sponge Bob to eat Pop-Tarts and Sugar Smacks.

Yes, there is an obesity epidemic among American kids, but it's more the result of parents who either can't--or won't--say no to their kids. If Little Junior pitches a fit in the cereal aisle for a box of Frosted Sugar Bombs, well, we'd better buy it, so his self-esteem doesn't suffer and he won't hate us. In my day, you didn't see a lot of tantrums in the grocery store, because such behavior usually meant a quick trip to the car, and some swats on the bottom. Today, it's rare to make a trip to Wal-Mart and not see at least one child throwing a fit because he or she can't have something, while a mortified parent looks on. Restore a little discipline in the household, and you won't be buying as many boxes of Fruit Loops to placate the little hellion.

America's schools are also to blame. Over the past two decades, there has been a dramatic drop in the number of schools offering P.E. as part of their curriculum. And sadly, many of the schools that still require phys ed have replaced old-fashioned sports and calorie-burning exercises with activities designed to improve participation and self-esteem. If you want healthier kids, make physical education mandatory, and reintroduce activities that actually promote health and fitness.

Here's another novel idea: if you want healthy kids, get them away from the TV. Back in the bad old days of my childhood (and the four-channel TV universe), there were times when you had to "make your own fun" because there was absolutely nothing to watch on television. As a result, I spent a lot of hours playing sports (football, basketball, baseball), riding my bike and climbing trees. Time was marked by how many innings of baseball you played before dark, not how many cartoons you watched.

Lest we forget, these same outdoor, physical activities are still available youngsters today. But getting a kid away from the TV, X-Box or computer takes a little effort, namely parents who limit on their children's time for those activities. The last time I checked, every TV, PC and video game had "off" button but too many parents are reluctant to push it, and so-called interest groups are more concerned with trying to regulate everyone's life. Instead of suing Sponge Bob and Kellogg, the Center could do much more for the cause of healthy kids by simply encouraging parents to act like....parents.

Of course, there's not much money in promoting responsible behavior, so I'm guessing the center will press ahead with its lawsuit. Meanwhile, it's a dark day in Bikini Bottom when Sponge Bob gets sued because so many parents refuse to do their job.

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