Children's 'elfy' TV show to target junk foods

Britain's biggest commercial children's television network has created a cartoon series starring a band of healthy-eating elves in an attempt to deflect criticism for screening junk food advertisements.

Britain's biggest commercial children's television network has created a cartoon series starring a band of healthy-eating elves in an attempt to deflect criticism for screening junk food advertisements.

In a defensive action, because concerns about food advertising targeted at children are at an all-time high, Turner Broadcasting, which owns the Cartoon Network, Boomerang and Toonami, has produced a series of animations aimed at combating childhood obesity.

Elfy Food follows a band of elves on a mission to retrieve magical foods from the evil Frank Farter and his monsters, in six two-minute long cartoons.

The company, which is behind cartoons such as Scooby Doo, Tom & Jerry and The Powerpuff Girls, is offering the mini-series, which cost £250,000 to make, to terrestrial broadcasters including the BBC and Channel 4 for free.

In a special Elfy Food week in October, Turner will broadcast an episode every hour in peak time, to ensure its entire audience of 3.5 million children and six million adults in the UK see it. The animation will also be shown in Europe and the US. Each episode features a different fruit or vegetable, which imbues the elves with special powers - carrots become "lumo gooms" providing night vision, broccoli turns into "turbo tips", providing brain food and apples become "crunch-a-balls" offering "sportability".

The aim is to rebrand fruit and vegetables as an attractive alternative to children aged four to nine, in the same way that Popeye promoted spinach to an earlier generation.

Turner has admitted its strategy is to persuade the watchdog, Ofcom, that broadcasters should be allowed to continue advertising what it insists are "legal" sugary and fatty foods if they also promote healthy eating.

The cartoon is a response to a White Paper published in November 2004, which outlined a desire to work with advertisers and broadcasters to promote a healthy diet and lifestyle to children.

Later this year, Ofcom is holding a public consultation on whether the existing regulations covering advertising to children should change. In a report published last July, the watchdog ruled out a complete ban on food advertising but concluded television adverts did have a modest influence on children's food choices.

The network consulted Ofcom and the Food Standards Agency during the making of Elfy Food and hopes the Department of Health and other departments will pick up the baton and use the cartoon characters in their own healthy eating campaigns.

Richard Kilgarriff, the general manager of Turner Entertainment Networks, said: "We have been developing Elfy Food for 18 months in anticipation of the White Paper last November as a counterbalance to any adverse regulation on food advertising.

"Initially, it was a defensive measure, then it became clear we could contribute something in the long term if we invested enough time and money and had a decent story.

"We had a very successful year last year financially and we used some of that success to invest.

"We want it to last a long time, because our audience is renewed every year, so we made a lot of the story elements very traditional - setting up obstacles that characters overcome and the forces of good and evil battling together."

The good guys

POPEYE

The Sailor Man was the original cartoon advocate of healthy eating, relying on cans of spinach to fuel his superhuman feats of strength, although he spoilt the effect by smoking a pipe.

YUM CHUMS

Following a spate of bad publicity, in August 2004, McDonalds launched a series of educational cartoon characters, the Yum Chums, to promote balanced diets and exercise for children.

SESAME STREET

The classic US children's show has launched a new focus on healthy eating and exercise, with a new song teaching the Cookie Monster that "A Cookie Is A Sometimes Food".

TELETUBBIES, TWEENIES AND FIMBLES

In April 2004, the BBC banned its pre-school cartoon characters from backing sweets and chocolate and pledged to promote healthier foods including fruit, potatoes and cereals.

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