Will SpongeBob kill the kids or save them from nutritional disaster?

SpongeBob: For Obesity or Health?: "SpongeBob: For Obesity or Health?

Who's going to win the war against obesity? The nutritionists? or the purveyors of sugar and fat? The trouble is healthy eating education isn't profitable unless you are in charge of a comprehensive national health service and can smell the escalating healthcare costs.

There is LOTS of profits to be made hawking addictive sugar and fat products and then the expensive drugs to keep you alive in the aftermath (and then the drugs to treat the side effects of the drugs).

The wildly popular cartoon character Spongebob has become a symbol of the forces in deep conflict over how food is being marketed to kids.

Anyone who watches the Nickelodeon (VIA ) cartoon SpongeBob Squarepants knows that the cute title character is absorbent and bright yellow. But how flexible is he? That question is being put to the test these days as his valuable brand equity is stretched between those who want the popular character used to promote health, fitness, and nutrition to children, and those who see him as the perfect pitch-sponge for fatty, salty, sugary food that kids love to eat. Advertisement

The Center for Science in the Public Interest says SpongeBob contributes to childhood obesity by hawking Kellogg's (K ) Pop Tarts, Kraft (KFT ) Macaroni & Cheese, Oscar Meyer Lunchables, in addition to cookies and fast food. Yet his Nick-masters are busy enhancing Spongey's pro-fitness image. And these efforts are rightly drawing barbs that SpongeBob, or at least his handlers, are trying to straddle both sides of the obesity debate and sending mixed messages to kids.

'NICKTRITIONAL' LABELS. SpongeBob and his fellow cartoon stars are being used to promote better eating habits and exercise by way of programming, public-service style ads, and Web-site content. But Nickelodeon has been simultaneously benefiting from the royalties derived from SpongeBob, as well as Dora the Explorer, touting the high-fat, high-salt, and high-sugar stuff that nutritionists say is contributing mightily to the obesity and type-2 diabetes swamping young kids. "