Cartoons as a front in the junk food war

The grandchildren of today's kids will find Flintstone ads for sugar cereal as strange as my kids find the 1962 Flintstones' cigarette commercial. But the struggle has just begun.

I'm old enough to remember the commercial above, in first-run. The Flintstones at that time was a prime time show, cigarettes dominated prime time advertising, so I thought nothing of it.

The 1964 requirement that health warnings go on cigarette packages, followed by the TV ad ban enacted in 1970 were the first steps in a long war against smoking which still continues.

When the commercial above ran in 1962 about 40% of U.S. adults smoked, including both my parents. The rate today is 21%, and it increasingly skews young.

The war on junk food, by contrast, has barely begun. And make no mistake, it's going to be a war, a long struggle against entrenched interests, with gains won an inch at a time. As it was with smoking.

Studies like this one, from the journal Pediatrics, produced by Yale's Rudd Center, show how cartoon characters influence kids' food choices, are really a first step. This provides cover for editorials suggesting these images be confined to the produce aisle.

The pushback consists of over $1.6 billion in food ads aimed at children each year, much of it using cartoon characters. The Flintstones no longer peddle cigarettes, but they do push sugary cereal, not just on packages and in commercials but online as well.

The reformers' hope is that the grandchildren of today's kids will find Flintstone ads for sugar cereal as strange as my kids find this cigarette commercial. But in that battle we're not even at 1964 yet. It's more like the time when that TV commercial ran.

I'm going to watch the comments carefully to see if you don't agree.

This post was originally published on


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