NEW YORK - A children's advocacy group wants the Department of Health and Human Services to oust Shrek, the animated ogre, from his role as spokesman for an anti-obesity drive.
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood says soon-to-open Shrek the Third has too many promotional ties with unhealthy foods to justify using Shrek as a health advocate.
"There is an inherent conflict of interest between marketing junk food and promoting public health," Susan Linn, the group's director, wrote in a letter sent yesterday to HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt.
The character, said Linn, an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, "is a walking advertisement for McDonald's, sugary cereals, cookies and candy."
HHS spokesman Bill Hall said the department had no intention of halting the public-service ads, which were launched in February and seek to curtail childhood obesity.
The ad campaign is a joint project of HHS, the Ad Council's Coalition for Healthy Children, and DreamWorks Animation SKG, creator of the three Shrek movies. It features ads in which Shrek, a stout and often clumsy ogre, and his fellow characters urge children to exercise at least an hour a day.
"Shrek is a very well-known character in the target population," Hall said, adding that a healthy diet "does not necessarily exclude the occasional treat."
Linn's organization - a nationwide coalition which monitors marketing aimed at children - said Shrek the Third, which opens May 18, had promotional deals with dozens of food products, including Mars Inc.'s Snickers and M&M's candy; PepsiCo Inc.'s Sierra Mist drink; and Kellogg Co.'s Froot Loops, Frosted Flakes, Pop-Tarts, Cheez-Its and Keebler cookies.
The film also has a tie-in with McDonald's; there will be Shrek-themed promotions of Happy Meals, and DreamWorks will create animation for some McDonald's commercials.