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Shrek: Promoting Healthy, or Mindless, Eating?

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It's likely that you've noticed the explosion of Shrek food products on the market since the release of the new movie a few weeks ago. His face has popped up everywhere. However, on further investigation, he seems a little confused. Shrek has been sending very conflicting message to kids about how to eat.

On one hand, he is making it cool to eat veggies again. In the Wall Street Journal, a recent article explained why onion sales have been doing so well (up 30 to 35 percent). If you've seen the original Shrek movie, you may remember that Shrek compared ogres to onions. As Shrek munches on an onion he tells Donkey that, "ogres are like onions ... we both have layers." Since Shrek likes onions, it was not a far stretch to work Shrek into the packaging and marketing of onions. Not surprisingly, Vadalia onion sales, with the Shrek packaging, are up. Kids are even clamoring for onions when they see Shrek on the packaging.

It worked extremely well for Popeye. To this day, eating spinach continues to be more attractive because of him. Associating spinach with strength has had amazing longevity. Popeye's love of spinach was first depicted in cartoons around the 1930s. The creators cleverly devised a story about how spinach became the source of Popeye's power. We still entice kids (and adults) to eat spinach because it makes you stronger.

Unfortunately, Shrek had such a good opportunity to help kids eat healthier that he may have ruined. Shrek had been nominated to be the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson for an anti-obesity campaign (click here to see the Shrek 30-second childhood obesity prevention commercial). But, children's advocacy groups objected. A simple Google search of Shrek foods brings up a frightening amount of unhealthy food that has Shrek's picture on it (M&Ms, children's sugar cereals, candy and more).

Also, food manufactures turned virtually every kind of food they possibly could think of green -- like green yogurt, popcorn, fruit roll ups and waffle sticks. One has to wonder if adding green dye to any kind of food is a good idea? Not to mention that Shrek has partnered up with McDonalds. In the hopes, one would imagine, that kids would want to go there to get the Shrek toy. In the end, McDonalds had to recall its Shrek glasses due to suspected toxic paint on the glasses.

So, in the very same way Shrek can make eating onions attractive to kids, he also makes eating unhealthy snacks enticing to little ones. In the future, could we use the power of advertising for a good cause? I hope so. Movies, particularly children's movies, have an enormous opportunity to fight the obesity trend among kids and to help them learn how to eat mindfully and choose healthy foods.

By Dr. Susan Albers, psychologist and author of 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food, Eating Mindfully, Mindful Eating 101, Eat, Drink & Be Mindful.
www.eatingmindfully.com

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