A special interagency working group, composed of several federal agencies, was commissioned by Congress in 2009 to perform a study of how food is marketed to children. It has instead released a set of "voluntary" guidelines for self-regulation in food advertising.
These guidelines hint, in not-so-subtle terms, that food companies must either change their recipes or stop advertising on shows watched by children, which are defined as those with audiences composed of just 20 or 30 percent children. Cereal manufacturers would also have to remove those cartoon mascots from all of their packaging.
I take a special interest in the federal government's current anti-obesity efforts because I vividly recall the allure of sugar cereal mascots during Saturday morning cartoons in my childhood.
I remember Lucky Charms from before the purple horseshoes or red balloons were added. I committed at least one complete Fruity Pebbles ad to memory so well that I can still recite it today. Yet I almost never partook of those cereals as a child.
My parents' steadfast refusal to give in to my demands for sugar cereals left me feeling a lot like the Trix rabbit -- always thwarted in my quest for disgustingly sweet breakfast food.
But who knows? If not for this, I might be required to purchase two seats now each time I fly. At the very least, it seems safe to say that good parenting outweighed any undue influence from Toucan Sam.
The federal government's new "voluntary" rules about advertising not-so-healthy food to children raise many important issues. As food and advertising industry representatives repeatedly point out, they're not really "voluntary" in any meaningful sense.
If they do not later become mandatory or appear in class-action lawsuits by fat kids and irresponsible parents against cereal makers, they still pose serious First Amendment questions regarding commercial speech. There is also the problem of jobs in the ad industry, which could take a hit if food companies stop buying airtime.
But we really don't need to open any of those cans of worms to find the absurdity in this situation. If the federal government is so concerned about children eating poorly, it should probably stop doing what it is doing to make the problem worse before it calls out the lynch mob to drive a stake through Count Chocula's heart.
At this moment, the federal school lunch program has taxpayers subsidizing the nation's obesity problem. A study published in the American Health Journal in December found that children who eat lunches served at school are 29 percent more likely to be obese than children who brown-bag it.
This is not the first study to reach that conclusion. The amazing truth is that the bureaucrats are pursuing a highly dubious strategy of advertising curbs even as they fail to clean their own house with respect to combating obesity.
Across America, schools serve daily meals whose sugar content remains unregulated, and this remains true even now after the issuance of the most recent USDA guidelines.
The chocolate and strawberry milk cartons that television star and chef Jamie Oliver spent the last season fighting in Los Angeles give the lie to Uncle Sam's attempts to regulate commercial freedom of speech.
Government wants to alter radically the behavior of others without even considering its own significant and perhaps decisive contribution to the problem.
Perhaps it is dishonorable for advertisers to target children with ads for sugary foods. Perhaps parents should boycott the companies that teach their kids to go cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.
But before they hunt down and shoot Tony the Tiger, the bureaucrats in Washington might want to turn the gun on themselves first.
David Freddoso is The Examiner's online opinion editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.