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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

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And I'm Melissa Block.

The Obama administration wants to limit the amount of advertising kids see for junk food. It's part of a broader push to improve child nutrition.

And as NPR's Ari Shapiro reports, it's part of what critics see as a growing nanny state.

ARI SHAPIRO: Some of the most memorable cartoons on television are less than 30 seconds long. For decades, Saturday mornings on TV have been populated by Count Chocula...

(Soundbite of TV ad)

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #1: Chocolaty cereal with chocolaty marshmallow bats.

SHAPIRO: Dig 'Em the frog.

(Soundbite of TV ad)

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) Kellogg's Sugar Smacks.

Unidentified Man #2: Part of this nutritious breakfast.

Unidentified Man #3: Dig 'Em.

SHAPIRO: And Tony the Tiger.

(Soundbite of TV ad)

Unidentified Man #4: Those big crisp flakes of corn with that secret toasted in sugar frosting - they're grrreat!

SHAPIRO: Those ads have more in common than trippy cartoon mascots -marshmallow bats, sugar smacks, toasted in sugar frosting.

Stephen Teret is a public health professor at Johns Hopkins University.

Professor STEPHEN TERET (Public Health, Johns Hopkins University): Your ability to recognize those characters is a function of how much money the food makers spend in trying to alter the behaviors of children in a non-healthful manner.

SHAPIRO: Now, the Obama administration is offering what it calls voluntary principles to guide industry self-regulatory efforts to improve the nutritional profile of foods marketed to children.

In other words, the government wants food manufacturers to spend less money advertising junk food to kids - not just on TV, but in every medium. It's a voluntary program, but it still rankles libertarians such as David Boaz of the Cato Institute, who doesn't want the government telling us what to eat for breakfast.

Mr. DAVID BOAZ (Executive Vice President, Cato Institute): If the federal government decided to issue voluntary guidelines about what newsmen should say to avoid inflaming the public, I think you guys would be pretty upset.

SHAPIRO: Oh, we would just choose not to follow them. Can't food companies do the same thing?

Mr. BOAZ: Food companies could choose not to follow them, but every major company in America is subject to so many involvements with the federal government that it's very difficult to do.

SHAPIRO: Margo Wootan hopes he's right. She's director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. And she helped write these standards. She says companies are already self-regulating ads for kids. But right now, the system is a patchwork with lots of holes.

Dr. MARGO WOOTAN (Director of Nutrition Policy, Center for Science in the Public Interest): These standards take us from having self-regulation be a nice idea to having self-regulation actually work.

SHAPIRO: And the food industry says it's open to these proposals. Scott Faber is vice president of federal affairs at the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

Mr. SCOTT FABER (Vice President of Federal Affairs, Grocery Manufacturers Association): Government has a very big role to play if we are going to end childhood obesity within a generation, as the first lady has called on us to do. So these are recommendations that we'll look at carefully as we think of ways to update the standards we're already using.

SHAPIRO: The public has 45 days to comment on these new proposals before the Obama administration sends its final report to Congress.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.

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