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Recently we heard news of a letter-writing protest to Nickelodeon about the food commercials the network airs. The issue is the same as it has been lately: the food being advertised does not meet the arbitrary nutritional standards advocated by some organizations who presume to tell everyone (especially children) exactly what to eat. These letters also presume to tell Nickelodeon not to accept the ads, and have zero concern for what that means to the network's business.

Such groups believe that childhood obesity will be reduced by removing parental responsibility from the family and placing it in the hands of others (TV networks and government mandates, for example). Can it be that parents no longer accept the responsibility for approving kids' food choices and welcome outside influences? That is a premise which is hard to accept, but seems to be prevalent.

Like any other business, children's television needs revenue in order to fund its content. If marketers cannot produce commercials that sell their products on kids' TV — or must change the products to be permitted to air the commercials — they will eventually move marketing dollars elsewhere. That means considerably reduced income for the networks, which means considerably reduced availability of TV programming for kids.

If some parents are happy to abrogate their responsibility for setting rules for their children's eating habits, they are not going to be happy when there is little or no television programming to be a babysitter. They might have to play games, read with the kids, or otherwise pay attention to them, unless, of course, they allow the children to become even more obsessed with video games on Wii, XBox or other devices. By the way, some of those electronic games are imbedded with commercials. Do they have to adhere to some yet-to-surface group's arbitrary nutrition standards, too? Is anyone watching a kid playing an electronic game in which a character has his heart torn out on the screen? If a commercial for a QSR follows that scene, should it be subject to nutritional requirements?

Ratings for children's television programs have declined recently. Yes, kids are becoming more sophisticated all the time, and a lot of the content is no longer interesting to them, especially as they get older. Some kids have become concerned about nutrition, learned about healthier choices, and they have begun to make those choices, even if they don't like the food. (Has anyone seen any evidence that children are actually eating the alternate choices?) Most kids would still like to enjoy a tasty burger or a bowl of sweet cereal sometimes. The children's food police would take that choice from the kids by simply not reminding them that it's still available. If that happens, parents will no longer have to be concerned — it will have become someone else's responsibility.

But what if the entertaining yet harmless shows that kids like best go off the air, and the cry, "Hey Mom, there's nothing good on TV," is often heard. Will any of the outside groups or letter-writers or parents remember that forcing certain requirements on commercials was the reason for "nothing good on TV?" It will be blamed on the networks that dropped programming on which they were losing money.

Those who would take the responsibility for child discipline from parents think they are performing noble acts. They would force the replacement of menu options from food kids like to items that they may or may not want to eat. Now they would censor communications about the kids' favorites to the point where the existence of the entertainment kids like is threatened. That is not noble. It's frightening.

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Barry Klein

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Barry Klein
Barry Klein is best known for creating the Ronald McDonald character and led the "You Deserve A Break Today" advertising campaign for McDonald's. In his current occupation as a marketing consultant, Klein has developed business-building concepts, new products and more for Coca Cola, Pizza Hut, Quiznos, Cadillac, Ruby Tuesday, Friendly’s, Perkins, Pay Less Shoes and others. He has been a key contributor to such projects as Stuffed Crust Pizza for Pizza Hut, Prime Rib Subs and Torpedoes for Quizno
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