Betsy Hart

"Shrek the Third" opens this weekend, and my four kids and I can't wait.

Of course, we didn't have to wait. We see him -- Shrek --all over the grocery store, for starters. The lovable, hugely overweight ogre has been turning up on everything from Sierra Mist soda to M&Ms to Fruit Loops cereal. I've had to listen to him burp constantly since he arrived as my children's McDonald's Happy Meal toy.

Now, I'm all for marketing and product tie-ins. They are what make the free-market world go around. But, only the federal government could have come up with the brainless idea to make Shrek its face for its anti-childhood-obesity drive. Seriously.

Let's review. Childhood-obesity rates, already at epidemic proportions, are skyrocketing ever higher and faster. A report published last year by the International Journal of Pediatric Obesity said that by 2010, half of American kids will be overweight or even obese. That's up from previous projections of one-third. These kids are at risk for a lifetime of chronic and even deadly health conditions. Already, two-thirds of the adult population is overweight or obese, making the condition the second-leading cause of preventable death in the United States, just barely behind smoking.

And I don't lay the whole problem on cheap junk food or McDonald's. Those things may be cheaper and more available now, and maybe they are partly to blame, but they were pretty prevalent when I was a kid, too. Yet the rates of childhood obesity and overweight back then were comparatively tiny (about 4 percent of kids ages 6-11 in 1970). I remember one early-'70s-era commercial for Hostess treats. The ad featured kids watching TV (the horror!) after school. The lovely suburban mother walks into the TV room with a platter full of Hostess cupcakes and Twinkies, and the kids scoop them up with a big "Thanks, Mom!"

I recall literally asking my mother to do that very thing for us. She responded that I was crazy if I ever thought that would happen in our home.

In other words: Sure, the world is full of temptations. Yes, kids get too much "screen time." But it's ultimately up to parents to say "no," and to teach our children to say "no" to themselves and their unhealthy passions. Like overeating.

Unlike the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, I'm not really concerned that Shrek is on soda, which doesn't come into my house except for special occasions. Like I said, I rather like commercialism in principle. What I would like to revisit with the feds is the fact that Shrek is obese. Did anyone think about that slight contradiction when he was hired to be the face of the government's anti-obesity campaign?

Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart is a nationally syndicated columnist for the Scripps Howard News Service. Her column on cultural and family issues, “From the Hart,” is distributed each week to hundreds of newspapers cross the country. Betsy’s first book, "It Takes a Parent: How the Culture of Pushover Parenting is Hurting out Kids – and What to do About It," was released in September, 2005, and was a top seller for its publisher, Putnam Books.