Homer Simpson, watch out. The health-nanny tendency, having achieved only partial success in changing the eating habits of three-dimensional people, is now targeting two-dimensional characters.
A team of nutritionists from an American university have made a study of the dietary intake of Homer, Barney and police chief Wiggum and detected that they seem to shift an awful lot of doughnuts and beer.
The researchers, led by Professor Carol Byrd-Bredbenner of Rutgers University, analysed 63 episodes of the show for health-related messages. Their conclusion? "Fats, sweets and alcohol, particularly beer, doughnuts and salty/fatty snacks accounted for 52 per cent of all foods eaten in this programme,'' they say.
"Homer also was portrayed eating food more often (he alone accounted for 21 per cent of all actions showing food being eaten) and ate greater quantities than other characters.'' Overall, they found that 40 per cent of the health messages ran counter to those promoted by health professionals.
But what the researchers - whose work is reported in the Health Education Journal - do not seem to have noticed is that the cartoon show is satire, and that the doughnut-scoffers are, to a man, balding, overweight, drunken losers. Neither do they seem to have noticed that the only multi-millionaire character, Mr Burns, is a non-smoking, hardly-ever-drinking, food minimalist who is as thin as a rake and still running his business at an advanced age.
Nor do they pick up on the fact that the cartoon's only serious smokers, Homer's sisters-in-law, are gravel-voiced harridans whose total failure to snare a man is due in no small part to their unsavoury personal habits.
Nevertheless, Professor Byrd-Bredbenner is worried. She says: "We should be able to weave some good health messages into The Simpsons ... Perhaps we could have more pasta and less doughnuts." Stand by to see nutritionists mocked in an upcoming episode.
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