Ban junk-food advertising? They'll still find it

I have a confession to make. When my wife was out of town recently, I lived it up.

I did something I never do when she's at home.

I ate a plate of lima beans.

Thanks, I feel better for having gotten that off my chest. It's not that I'm a big lima-bean junkie, but I do enjoy the occasional legume. My wife, on the other hand, won't touch 'em. Therefore, we don't eat lima beans at home.

The first President Bush, you might recall, didn't like broccoli. Had it banned from the White House. It became a big issue. Broccoli protesters. Broccoli growers shipping crates to Washington.

"I'm the president of the United States and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli," he said.

As it turns out, broccoli is good for you. In yet another study to confirm what mothers have been telling us since the invention of vegetables, researchers at Johns Hopkins University say brocolli contains a chemical that attacks a bacteria causing ulcers and stomach cancers.

Mmmmm. Appetizing.

I know of no researchers doing similar work on lima beans, yet I feel confident my mother would not have steered me wrong. Ditto carrots and spinach.

(And don't worry about my wife. What she lacks in lima beans, she makes up for in peas.)

Anyway, I was pondering the wonders of the vegetable universe when I came across an opinion that -- I kid you not -- seriously suggested the federal government ban all junk-food advertising aimed at children.

"It took 40 years to get where we are today with the fight against tobacco, " Dr. Kelly Brownell of the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders told a Senate committee investigating the causes of childhood obesity. "And the industry stalled, ignored the data, denied the data and did all the things that are well known now. You can just see it coming with the food companies."

Oh, yes. I can definitely see it coming. I am told Sweden and Norway already prohibit the advertising of junk food to children, and Great Britain may be next.

All I can say is: Oh. My. God.

Wouldn't it be simpler to cut right through the bureacratic merry-go-round and just have the federal government order children to eat their vegetables?

"Timmy," says his mother, "better finish off that asparagus. We don't want the Bureau of Food Management coming around. Like they did over at the Wilsons. Poor little Toby. Only 9 years old, and already in a federal prison."

If the federal government outlaws junk food, only outlaws will have Twinkies.

You may remember the incident a couple of years ago when a 12-year-old was arrested on a subway in Washington, D.C., for eating french fries. It wasn't because french fries are fattening the nation's youth, however, but because the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and French Fries was cracking down on the litter caused by subway snacking.

At the time, however, I predicted the day would come the do-gooders of this great nation would realize there are a few freedoms we still enjoy -- like the Oreos I ate last night before I went to sleep -- and feel compelled to figure out a way to take them away from us.

I'm curious exactly how one goes about regulating the advertising of junk food to children.

First, they would have to define "junk food." Would it have to meet certain nonnutritional standards? Would there be a calory limit? Would everything containing sugar qualify?

When I sit down for a big dinner, I like to have a salad (good), meat, potatoes and vegetables (good, except to the people who want to ban meat, too) and a piece of apple pie with ice cream (junk food?)

Then there would be the definition of "advertising." I assume they're talking mainly about television. Since much of advertising is branding, and pretty much everything McDonald's, Burger King and Dunkin' Donuts sell could be considered junk food, would they simply outlaw all ads by certain purveyors of non-conforming foodstuffs?

Why just children? Isn't junk food bad for all of us? Would there be a certain age -- say, 18 -- when the young people of America are deemed mature enough to decide for themselves whether they should watch a Mountain Dew commercial?

And what about the fairness issue? Charlie Powell, who works for the organization that is trying to get a ban in England, said: "Advertising during children's programming continues to present a grossly imbalanced nutritional message."

Well, I think the mothers of the world are pushing the vegetables pretty hard, too. I've never once heard a mother say, "Put down that celery stick right now, and go find a Snickers bar. Too much nutrition makes Jack a dull boy."

In the end, though, I'm bothered most by the idea that someone believes it's the role of the federal government to protect our children from Happy Meals. Given the choice of a nation of physically fit children who believe the federal government is there to protect them from every possible harm, or a bunch of fat slobs willing to take responsibility for their own actions, I'm going with the tubbies. They'll have a better chance of surviving as adults.

Besides, what some of the greatest minds of many a generation fail to grasp -- but what sly mothers and fathers have figured out -- is the quickest way to make something more desirable is to prohibit it.

In fact, I'm not even sure I like lima beans.

Barry Smith is editor of the Nevada Appeal.


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