California kids' health initiative under a cloud

first 5: Rob Reiner steps down as chairman

By Published on .

In one ad, a little girl looks up into the camera, begging for a glass of sugar. In another, a child seated in a car seat pleads for grease.

The commercials, part of an $11 million campaign by a state agency, the First 5 California Children and Families Commission, urge parents to stand up to their children's demands because unhealthful early eating patterns can lead to diabetes and a shortened life. Until recently, the commission was chaired by Hollywood heavyweight Rob Reiner.

So far, food marketers have not complained about the spots. Kris Perry, executive director of the agency, said the spots were not intended as an attack on the food industry. "Our overarching strategy is to educate parents on the importance of food choice and activity levels."

This most recent round of ads, however, has led to Mr. Reiner resigning his position as commission chairman amid allegations that he improperly used $23 million in the First 5 California ad budget to help support a pending voter initiative, Proposition 82, which would tax wealthy Californians for a universal preschool program. GMMB, Los Angeles, a shop handling political advertising, has had the account following state-run reviews in 2000 and 2004.

According to a report in The San Francisco Chronicle, GMMB was charged with building demand for universal preschool around the time signatures were being gathered to put Proposition 82 on the ballot. Mr. Reiner's office did not return calls seeking comment. Greg Pinelo, partner and creative director at GMMB, referred questions the commission. Ms. Perry would not comment on the agency, but characterized Mr. Reiner's departure as "a loss for our organization."
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