Are Cap’n Crunch, Ronald McDonald, Toucan Sam, and the Keebler Elves Headed the Way of Joe Camel?

The message from Washington: Make products healthier or stop advertising to kids.

In the first four days of the year, food companies spend more on marketing their products than the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, by no means a small organization, spends fighting childhood obesity over 365 days. In 2008 alone, companies shelled out $2 billion on advertising, games, social media, toys, touting sugary cereals, French fries, and salty crackers specifically to children.

Now, the Federal Trade Commission is stepping in. The agency unveiled new voluntary principles (PDF) for food marketing geared towards children, which basically tells manufacturers to make products healthier or stop advertising them to kids.

Could this mean that "Big Food" may be going the way of "Big Tobacco?" Will we all be seeing less of the Joe Camels of junk food—Ronald McDonald, Cap'n Crunch, and Tony the Tiger?

Well, the FTC doesn't ban these cartoon characters outright and suggests they could promote healthier foods. But as I've written before, so far, research suggests cartoon animals are far less persuasive in touting things like carrots. Perhaps it's time to prepare your condolences for this unsavory lot.

Illustration via Corporate Accountability International (PDF).