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Commentary: Kellogg's Cereal Advertising

By Michael Tate, KERA 90.1 Commentator

Dallas, TX –

The Kellogg Company's decision to stop advertising cereals of dubious nutritional value to children under the threat of a lawsuit from the Center for Science in the Public Interest is silly at best and pointless in the extreme. I'm all for corporate responsibility but Kellogg elected to stop advertising for all the wrong reasons.

Anybody who grew up on a diet of Saturday morning cartoons knows all about ads for sugar-coated cereal and the voice over advice that came with each one: "part of a balanced breakfast." It was never a secret to us or our parents that on the Great Chain of Nutritious Foods most of those cereals had just slightly more value than dirt.

The goal was to have us badger our parents until they gave in and bought that box of Lucky Charms. And we tried. I always wanted to make Cap'n Crunch part of my balanced breakfast. But most of our mothers, including mine, just said no, grabbed a box of bran flakes off the shelf and away we went. Those cereals were expensive compared to classics like corn flakes and bran flakes. That's how they paid for the fancy advertising. Besides, my mother had better sense than to let us get all hopped up on sugar first thing in the morning or last thing in the evening.

The unwillingness of people to take responsibility for themselves can really be a tiresome subject but it is important nonetheless. When it comes to overweight children, or just kids with generally poor dispositions, you can't blame Toucan Sam or Dig 'Em the Frog. You can't blame Kellogg, either. It is mom and dad's fault. It always has been and it always will be. I have a sneaking suspicion that the parents who believe a lawsuit against Snap, Crackle and Pop is a good thing have overweight little tykes who'll grow up to be diabetic. And why? Because those parents didn't take the responsibility to just say no.

Just saying no is such a clich now, thanks to Nancy Reagan. When this innocuous but sound piece of advice got saddled to something as deadly serious as drug abuse, it became trite and lost its credibility. But on an everyday basis it is amazing how saying no can make so much difference, especially when it comes to a parent making important life decisions and looking out for their kid's best interests.

And let's try to keep a little perspective here. We're not talking about cigarettes. It's cereal for crying out loud. Sugar Frosted Flakes and Camels aren't the same thing. Tony the Tiger is neither Joe Camel nor Spuds McKenzie. Cereal ads aren't enticing our youth into dark alleys to eat Corn Pops. And Kellogg certainly isn't holding a gun to anybody's head at the grocery store. Bad nutrition, like other bad habits, too often starts at home.

This is really about making choices and some people's inability to do that very well. Parents of unhealthy children make the bad choices on the cereal aisle. Change that behavior instead of the advertising and maybe then you'll start making a difference in kids' health.

The silliest part of all is that we all know this isn't going to make a difference. Advertising is not witchcraft. Kellogg's decision won't affect the obesity rate of children or adults. And it won't crash their sales. The only thing we learn from this episode is that too many Americans still aren't willing to act rationally on their own behalf. It's an epidemic of immaturity that tells us more about ourselves than what cereal we eat.

Michael Tate is a writer from Dallas.

If you have opinions or rebuttals about this commentary, call (214) 740-9338 or email us.