The Times West Virginian

June 23, 2013

We have bigger problems than junk food commercials

By Misty Poe
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — There’s no such thing as Saturday morning cartoons. I guess I figured that out when I became a mother some 12 years ago.

Now there are 24-hour cartoon networks. Or at least nearly 24 hours of cartoons.

At any given time, you can turn on Nickelodeon and watch “SpongeBob SquarePants.” Trust me. After three kids, I actually get a little excited when there’s a new episode of “SpongeBob.” I have been known to keep the television on, after the kids have left the house or have gone to bed, if I haven’t seen a particular episode of “SpongeBob.”

It’s sad, I know. But maybe I’ll get a life when my kids leave the nest.

We were watching television Saturday — “SpongeBob,” probably — when a commercial for Cocoa Puffs came on. It wasn’t the first sugary cereal commercial that aired during that 30-minute program. And there were ads for fast food, fruit snacks, yogurt and drinks.

But this particular ad for Cocoa Puffs elicited a “can we get some?” from Jack.

Granted, we have a box of Cocoa Puffs in the kitchen. But since this issue has come up, I’ve been paying attention to it more. So since all three had seen the commercial, I asked what they liked about it. (You see how scientific this study is, right?)

“I liked the special effects.” — Jack, 5.

“I liked the way they showed all the chocolate.” — Jay, 9.

“I liked the way the Cocoa Puffs looked.” — Hal, 11.

So further scientific research was needed. I asked them why they wanted to buy the Cocoa Puffs after watching the commercial.

“It makes the milk chocolate.” — Hal

“The bird is cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs and birds are smart.” — Jay

“I like chocolate.” — Jack

Of course, these things were all mentioned in the commercial. And the commercial came on again before the end of the 30-minute program.

This is nothing new, by the way. I was cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs when I was Jack’s age. When I went to the store with my mom, the commercials for each of the products ran through my mind.

Is anything different? Some senators think so.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller was one who came out earlier this month, asking Nickelodeon’s parent company Viacom to become part of the fight against the nation’s childhood obesity epidemic. According to a 2010 study, 25 percent of the commercials kids see under the age of 12 are viewed on Nickelodeon. And of those commercials, 69 percent of foods advertised were of poor nutritional quality.

“This is about making sure our kids are able to live strong, healthy lives, and there are concrete steps each of us can take to support these efforts,” Rockefeller said in a statement on the issue. “Nickelodeon can take one major step forward in the fight against childhood obesity by banning junk food and sugar-filled beverage ads that target kids.”

Rockefeller also wants to eliminate incentives for companies that sell or market these products, and promote access to programs that encourage healthy and active lifestyles.

“We must do better in West Virginia to increase physical activity in our communities and promote the great health benefits of eating fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Rockefeller. “Combined with more access to screenings for diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, these efforts can reduce the likelihood of chronic disease and improve our state’s overall health.”

So we wanted to hear what our readers had to say on the issue. Is the senator cuckoo or is it time to put our foot down when it comes to luring our kids toward unhealthy eating habits?

We posed the question on our online poll, which can be found at Last week, we asked, “Some lawmakers are asking the parent company of Nickelodeon to limit the number of commercials for sugary food geared toward children. What are your thoughts?”

And here’s what you had to say:

• Cartoon characters are on every box and can anyway — 6.94 percent

• Good! I’m tired of being harassed in the grocery store by my kids — 26.39 percent

• Seriously? Don’t we have bigger problems in the world? — 66.67 percent

It looks like most of us want to move on and fix other issues before trying to convince advertising companies to stop being such effective marketers.

This week, let’s talk about the use of cellphones and electronic devices on airplanes. The Federal Aviation Administration is talking about easing the ban for such devices during takeoff and landings. What are your thoughts?

Log on. Vote. Email me or respond online.

Misty Poe

Managing Editor