Fighting Captain Crunch's 'Darker Side' Against 'Epidemic of Childhood Obesity'

William Neuman's story on the latest attack by the food and advertising police, "U.S. Seeks New Limits on Food Ads for Children," which topped Friday's Business section, was slanted (as most Times business stories are) against business and in favor of federal regulators.

Will Toucan Sam go the way of Joe Camel?

The federal government proposed sweeping new guidelines on Thursday that could push the food industry to overhaul how it advertises cereal, soda pop, snacks, restaurant meals and other foods to children.

Citing an epidemic of childhood obesity, regulators are taking aim at a range of tactics used to market foods high in sugar, fat or salt to children, including the use of cartoon characters like Toucan Sam, the brightly colored Froot Loops pitchman, who appears in television commercials and online games as well as on cereal boxes.

Regulators are asking food makers and restaurant companies to make a choice: make your products healthier or stop advertising them to youngsters.

"Toucan Sam can sell healthy food or junk food," said Dale Kunkel, a communications professor at the University of Arizona who studies the marketing of children's food. "This forces Toucan Sam to be associated with healthier products."

Neuman admitted "The guidelines are meant to be voluntary, but companies are likely to face heavy pressure to adopt them."
While quoting Kelloggs and lobbying groups opposed to additional anti-child-marketing regulations on top of the ones already in place, the Times avoided a single philosophical argument for consumer choice and free speech, the way National Public Radio did in its own slanted story, bringing on David Boaz of the libertarian Cato Institute. It's a strange omission for the New York Times Co., which relies on free speech protections to complete its news-gathering mission.

Then there's this silly melodramatic sentence:

By explicitly tying advertising to childhood obesity, the government is suggesting there is a darker side to cuddly figures like Cap'n Crunch, the Keebler elves, Ronald McDonald and the movie and television characters used to promote food. It also raises the question of whether they might ultimately share the fate of Joe Camel, the cartoon figure used to promote Camel cigarettes that was phased out amid allegations that it was meant to entice children to smoke.