Thursday, April 26, 2007

Is Shrek Really A 'Good Model' For Exercise?

The Shrek character is being used to promote health to children

My wife Christine and I are BIG fans of the Shrek movies. We think Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy are a hilarious comedy team and the computer animation in these movies is just incredible. Dreamworks has been able to bankroll the rest of their entire lineup of films just with the profits they've made from the Shrek empire. We can't wait for the third installment in the series which hits theaters on May 18.

Because of the very high marketability of the characters from the movie, particularly Shrek and Donkey, all sorts of companies have lined up to use them in a cross-promotional effort to push their products. I was watching television the other day and noticed they put the M&M characters together with Shrek and Donkey in a 30-second spot. It was a cute commercial despite the high-sugar product that was being peddled.

You'll also see "Shrek The Third" promotions for other foods like Snicker bars, Skittles, Sierra Mist, Fruit Loops, Frosted Flakes, Pop-Tarts, Cheez-Its, Keebler cookies, and even a Happy Meal at McDonald's. With all this high-carb garbage being recommended by Shrek and his pals, it was more than a bit unusual to read this FOX News story about another surprising product Shrek has been asked to represent--EXERCISE!

THIS IS NOT A JOKE! Check it out for yourself by clicking HERE.

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Small Step Kids campaign has Shrek with his big fat ogre face and body jumping up (did you feel the Earth shake when he landed? Hee hee!). There's also Donkey's Jumping Jacks, Fiona's Sit Ups, Puss In Boots Push Ups, Hopping With Gingy (the Gingerbread Man!), and The Running Of The Pigs. All of this is supposed to encourage kids to get in one hour of exercise daily. Hmmm.

Let me just say that I can appreciate the good intentions of this government-endorsed Shrek promotion of exercise. But you can't help but think about how confusing this must be to little Johnny or Jane who sees their favorite movie characters eating foods like Happy Meals, Fruit Loops, or M&M's and then those same character encouraging exercise.

So which is it, Shrek? Healthy or unhealthy habits?

Well, I'm not alone in my concerns. A group called The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood said these close ties between Shrek and the unhealthy foods makes the popular animated character a poor choice to represent exercise.

They have even organized this petition drive to Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt for him to "Fire Shrek" and to "start getting serious about combating childhood obesity."

Commercial-Free Childhood campaign director Susan Linn, a psychiatry professor at Harvard, wrote a letter to Secretary Leavitt on Wednesday stating the use of Shrek in their exercise promotion to kids demonstrates "an inherent conflict of interest between marketing junk food and promoting public health."

"Surely Health and Human Services can find a better spokesperson for healthy living than a character who is a walking advertisement for McDonald's, sugary cereals, cookies and candy," she exclaimed.

But Health and Human Services spokesperson Bill Hall said the Shrek promotion has been underway for several months and that nothing is going to change now. The public service announcement television ads are also a part of the efforts by the Ad Council's Coalition for Healthy Children. In fact, Hall says there nothing at all wrong with using Shrek in these ads.

"Shrek is a very well known character in the target population of this campaign," he remarked. "We have always promoted a balanced, healthy diet, which does not necessarily exclude the occasional treat."

Occasional treat, Mr. Hall? Of ALL of those foods promoted by Shrek, guess how many of them are NOT loaded with sugar, sugar, and more sugar?! Just one--the Cheez-Its--but even that product has so much flour in it that the carbs turn into sugar in your body which then make you fat. To purport that a "balanced, healthy diet" includes these products is about as naive as it is ignorant.

You and I both know that kids eat these foods as their PRIMARY source of energy, not as the "occasional treat." When they see Shrek on the television or on the packaging of these food products, children immediately start screaming "Mommy, Mommy, I've got to have the Shrek Fruit Loops and Pop-Tarts! Please, please, please?!!" Of course, that's what marketing is supposed to do and the parents give in. Welcome to modern day capitalism!

If the Shrek endorsement of these products only brought about a nominal increase in sales, then they wouldn't use that character again in future ads. But the fact is Shrek is very influential on young impressionable minds, which is why Linn says the conflicting messages about healthy living is confusing to little kids who idolize and trust whatever their movie star tells them.

"Why would young children follow Shrek's advice about healthy living and ignore his entreaties to eat Happy Meals and Pop-Tarts?" she wrote in her letter. "If government agencies are serious about combating childhood obesity, they should stop cozying up to industry and start taking real steps to end the barrage of junk food marketing aimed at children."

I don't personally have an issue with Shrek promoting healthy choices such as exercising for an hour a day. That's excellent advice in this generation of video games, computers, and other non-physical activities that our children are engaging in. But not in conjunction with these other ads promoting junk foods. Therein lies the conflict of interest.

But don't tell that to Health and Human Services deputy assistant secretary.

"Shrek is a good model, especially for children who can benefit from more exercise," Deputy Assistant Secretary Penelope Royall responded. "He doesn't have a perfect physique, he's not a great athlete. We hope children will understand that being physically fit doesn't require being a great athlete."

Yep, you read that right. Royall said Shrek is a "good model" for healthy activity and living. The character stuffs his mouth nonstop with all kinds of nasty stuff while his big ole belly and butt hang out like some kind of tumor. It's what makes Shrek the character funny, but most definitely NOT a role model for children when it comes to health.

Royall said the purpose of the ads was to get children to exercise, not eat right. But how can you promote health by pushing activity and not diet, Ms. Royall? That's a strange way to combat childhood obesity if that is indeed your goal with this ad campaign. The best approach would be two-pronged--promote healthy nutrient-dense foods along with moderate and fun activities that will get your heart rate up and burn calories.

Dreamworks says they just want to be "responsible marketers" in all of this with their Shrek brand. Well, you've failed miserably at that and the almighty dollar seems to supercede all your good intentions. If you had Shrek promoting sugar-free chocolates or eggs, then perhaps you could be seen as more "responsiible." But not now.

Don't forget to sign the petition to Secretary Leavitt.

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Blogger Calianna said...

Eh... main problem I see in getting Shrek to promote "healthy" eating is that the government's idea of "healthy" would still consist of far too many carbs in the form of whole grains, potatoes, and sugary fruits, not to mention that they would have good ol' Shrek pushing saturated fat phobia on our kids, just like every other "healthy" food agenda the gov't promotes.

I don't like the idea that he's going to end up on the packaging of so many worthless "foods" either, since that certainly seems incongruous with the idea of him promoting a healthy lifestyle through exercise.

While at first glance it does seem like a good idea for him to be used to promote exercise, what kind of message is he really sending to the kids: Exercise like Shrek and you'll still be/end up as overweight as he is?!

4/26/2007 8:20 PM  
Blogger Science4u1959 said...

There are no good Government intentions anymore. Misinformed, unhealthy, tired and sick people are profitable and docile, and hence easy pray for any (new) sinister cause. What else would be the reason that Gov't systematically ignores real science? Stupidity? No doubt there's plenty of that, but not across the board.

Some quotes I found befitting:

During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act. ~ George Orwell

I am concerned for the security of our great nation, not so much because of any threat from without, but because of the insidious forces working from within. ~ General Douglas MacArthur

and the best of all:

The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of the blessings. The inherent blessing of socialism is the equal sharing of misery. ~ Winston Churchill

4/26/2007 11:50 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

The justification for using Shrek by the HHS managers are rather strange. Based on their reasoning, Joe Camel would also be a good exercise spokesperson.

4/27/2007 10:20 AM  
Blogger ADD said...

Just saw Shrek ogre-something sugary cereal in the aisles of a local supermarket... go figure. The ads for junk are far worse than Shrek not exercising.

I don't think animated characters of any kind should be (abused as) role models for kids, I am opposed to the cookie monster having to eat veggies as well - I feel a cookie monster has all right in the world to eat cookies, because that's what a cookiemonster eats 'naturally'. So, if ogres are lazy swamp-potatoes, let them have it their way...

4/27/2007 1:15 PM  

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