An afternoon with kids' TV

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To find out just how bad and constant kid-targeted junk-food commercials are, my editor assigned me to watch an afternoon of Nickelodeon TV. What I learned is 1) My kids now really don't believe I have a job; 2) Big-eyed tarty teen dolls are taking over the world, one skimpy outfit at a time; and 3) There's not much junk-food advertising on Nickelodeon after school.

Between 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 8 there were a grand total of 11 food commercials-along with 96 others for toys, video games and other mostly kid-targeted products. (One for Michelin tires, and another public-service announcement for mental illness elicited respective comments of "Boring!" and a "What's depression?" from my 5-year-old critic/son.)

The food ads included three Cheetos ads; two Chuck E. Cheese spots; one for McDonald's; one for a kid-sized chocolate fountain; two cereal ads for Reese's Puffs; plus one each for Cookie Crisp and Cocoa Puffs.

Several channel surfs to the Cartoon Network and Nick Jr. added little more. One Pizza Hut promotion and a Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup spot upped the food tally, along with one airing of the PSA featuring people dressed as healthy foods playing basketball.

They hardly qualified as beckoning youngsters to shovel down fatty cheeseburgers and swill sugary carbonated drinks. The Cheetos commercials were for the "baked" version and the lone boy in the commercial ate them from a snack-size bag. The Chuck E. Cheese spots "reminded" kids that fund-raiser nights donated 10% to their schools. (Do kids even eat when they go there? I mostly see a lot of begging for tokens.) Even the McDonald's ad showed Ronald hip-hopping all over a Dance Dance Revolution machine, and not a single child eating fast food.

I guess the worst ones were the sugary-cereal commercials; Reese's Puffs isn't exactly the breakfast of champions. General Mills' Cookie Crisp and Cocoa Puffs spots appeared immediately after two cute ads featuring kids needing fuel in a "Choose Breakfast" campaign. It looked like a PSA; however, further investigation at the choosebreakfast.com site revealed the General Mills logo clearly marked.

Still, as junk food goes, cereal at least offers whole grain options and a few added vitamins and minerals. Frankly, I'd rather have them eat a bowl of Reese's Puffs than a bowl of chocolate peanut butter cups-the first at least offers a much lower calorie and fat content.

Of course, it is the holiday season, and so it's only typical that the airwaves would be full of toy suggestions for Santa lists. Still, after watching more than three hours of ads (I'll admit, I fast-forwarded through the actual shows), I found myself more appalled at the itty-bitty skirts and overdone make-up of those teen-inspired baby dolls than the smattering of junk food pushes. It made me wonder, just what does the National Academy of Science thinks of Bratz Babyz?

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