Healthy living with SpongeBob SquarePants

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SpongeBob SquarePants is taking a hint from PBS and getting into the granola game. This June PBS Kids launched its "Happy Healthy Summer" initiative, a campaign that urges children to exercise more and eat healthier foods by offering suggestions through popular kids' TV shows. Blue Sesame Street monster Grover has been making cameo appearances on PBS Kids programs to deliver health messages, and pbskids.org is offering advice to parents on how to keep their kids active and healthy.

Nickelodeon, home to SpongeBob, has been making an effort with its "Let's Just Play" campaign, which encourages kids to get off the couch and live a little. The network is now making licensing deals with produce companies, and its characters will soon endorse fruits and vegetables in addition to the usual sugary cereals, ice cream, and salty snacks.

The lovable, absorbent sponge will appear on bags of Boskovitch Farms spinach, and he will be joined by Dora the Explorer and LazyTown characters on packages of Grimmway Enterprises carrots. A multitude of other Nickelodeon favorites will beckon to kids from bags of LGS Specialty Sales citrus fruits.

This new trend in cartoon health is largely a result of criticism from parents and health experts, who are increasingly concerned about the relationship between television and childhood obesity. Even when kids' shows encourage a healthy lifestyle, the advertisements paired with the programs often hawk fatty, sugar-and-salt-laden foods.

The reasons for this are often financial--organic and produce companies are generally much smaller than the corporations that produce unhealthy snacks, and they have advertising budgets that are quite a bit punier. Nickelodeon executive Sherice Torres admits that the new agreements are "a bit of a departure from our standard licensing deals," but declined to reveal just how much less money the produce companies can offer.

Nickelodeon expects to continue making healthy-foods licensing agreements, and also plans to work with its current licensing partners to give a health makeover to the formulas of existing SpongeBob products.

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