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SpongeBob SquarePants, Health Risk | The Nation

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SpongeBob SquarePants, Health Risk

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According to a newspaper report the other day Senator Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, "lashed out at an adult entertainment industry representative." He was joined by fellow senatorial lasher-outters in dumping on dirty dancing and such in their ongoing crusade to protect the nation's children.

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Nicholas von Hoffman
Nicholas von Hoffman, a veteran newspaper, radio and TV reporter and columnist, is the author, most recently, of...

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The senators do better at lashing than at legislating. Previous attempts at safeguarding the young from digital debauchery via the Internet have gone nowhere, as Congressional efforts have met rejection in the courts.

Since it is believed that up to $13 billion a year is spent on various forms of low, vile and disgusting amusement condemned by the evangelical bluenose community, it follows that a number of their own voters must be buying the very material the senators do their lashings-out against. To avoid offending the subterranean but possibly large porno vote, the senators confine their grandstanding to protection of minors against the wiles of Internet and TV pornographers. So much tender talk about grandchildren and youthful innocence was heard in the committee room that a person might have thought the senators actually cared.

Not to be outdone in displays of concern for the wee ones, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is forcing the major Internet companies to divulge what thousands or possibly hundreds of thousands of their customers are looking up and at on their monitors because "we are trying to gather up information in order to help the enforcement of a federal law to ensure the protection, quite frankly, of our nation's children against pornography." Inspiring, eh?

Since pornographers are not, so far as we know, a major source of campaign money and gifts, the politicians are free to wax eloquent about digital dangers to children's moral health. Bring up the subject of children's diet and physical well-being and you endanger the golden stream of donations from the food, grocery, broadcasting and cable industries.

Anything along those lines is left to whatever anemic, underfunded private group might want to take a crack at keeping kids healthy. Luckily, one such has stepped forward and commenced legal action against mighty Viacom, accusing the company of using SpongeBob SquarePants and the other beguiling characters who cavort on Nickelodeon of peddling Kellogg's junk food to children under the age of 8.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has filed suit against Kellogg and Viacom, two corporations the Center says "are directly harming kids' health, since the overwhelming majority of food products they market to children are high in sugar, saturated and trans fat, or salt, or almost devoid of nutrients."

The Center tells us that in addition to trying to addict children to food that will shorten their lives, sicken and kill them, Kellogg is actively dissuading children from eating healthy food: "In a Kellogg advertising campaign for Apple Jacks cereal, the commercial features a conflict between Bad Apple, who is described as grouchy and mischievous, and Sweet Cinna Mon, who supposedly gives Apple Jacks their sweet taste. It is bad enough that Kellogg sells a cereal that has more sugar and more salt than it has apples. However, it is unconscionable to disparage apples when kids need to be encouraged to eat more apples and other fruits and vegetables. On an average day, only 45 percent of American children eat any fruit."

The more crap kids are habituated to eating, the sooner they get diabetes and the sooner the money rolls in. Of those lucrative diabetes patients the Boston Globe writes, "Ed Staffa, vice president of member services for the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, added in Retail Merchandiser, 'These are repeat patients. On an ongoing basis, the same individuals purchase products month in, month out. If you are able to engage them as a patient initially, you have their patronage for the rest of their life.' "

Lest diabetes be dismissed as of no great moment, it is well to remember that the United States boasts 21 million diabetics, 90 percent of whom got the disease that kills, blinds and maims by eating bad food and failing to exercise. Hospitals and nursing homes are jammed with diabetic patients, a thought for people who are having trouble paying for their medical insurance.

In case anyone has a doubt as to the efficacy of advertising bad food, the diabetes rate is going up faster than the red line in the thermometer of a feverish patient. One-third of the present generation of school-age kids are eating themselves into diabetes now.

Jesuit educators used to say that if they had child up to the age of 7, they had him or her forever. While that approach displeased some critics, whatever the Jesuits' sins may have been, they did not poison their young charges. In their place are the food companies, the advertising agencies and the television and cable networks. Yet take consolation wherever it is to be found. It is good to know that, though our ill-nourished kids may be set up to die young and painfully, they die pure of mind.

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