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Disney says no more junk food ads

June 05, 2012|By Mary MacVean
  • The Walt Disney Co. says it will not allow ads for unhealthful food and drinks in its children's programming.
The Walt Disney Co. says it will not allow ads for unhealthful food and drinks… (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles…)

Disney says it’s taking ads for junk food off its children’s programming.

The Walt Disney Co. on Tuesday announced new guidelines for TV, radio and website programming at an appearance in Washington with First Lady Michelle Obama. Critics who have for years complained about fatty, sugary food and beverage ads aimed at kids praised the move.

And, they said, it’s smart: As a company that positions itself as family-friendly, Disney can be seen as looking out for kids’ health.

Obama, who has made improved children’s health a central focus of her work, called Disney’s plan a "game changer."

"With this new initiative, Disney is doing what no major media company has ever done before in the U.S. — and what I hope every company will do going forward," she said.

“This is the smart way to run a healthy kingdom. This will help advertisers step up their game and make the commercials for healthier food even more compelling,” said Brian Wansink, a professor at Cornell University’s Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management.

“Commercials and advertising help keep down the cost of programming. Watching them is the price we pay to have free or inexpensive programs. If Disney can encourage healthier advertising without losing advertisers, it will be doing a great service to distracted parents. Giving a Disney stamp of approval helps parents, and it can help smart advertisers with the ‘health halo’ it gives them.”

The guidelines cover Disney channels and radio stations, websites and Saturday morning cartoons on stations that Disney owns, for ads aimed at children younger than 12. Harried parents might be relieved: A range of sweetened cereals, fast food and other items will not make the cut.

“Disney’s announcement is welcome news to parents and health experts concerned about childhood obesity and nutrition,” said Margo Wootan, the nutrition policy director at the advocacy organization Center for Science in the Public Interest. 

“This puts Disney ahead of the pack of media outlets and should be a wake-up call to Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network to do the same,” she said in a statement.

Sixteen food and beverage companies have agreed to limit junk food marketing through the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, CSPI said.  From 2003 to 2009, it said, ads aimed at kids for unhealthful food fell from 94% to 86%.

The chorus to do something about obesity in this country gets louder all the time. New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg last week announced a plan to restrict the sale of supersized sodas.

Disney’s guidelines are aligned with federal dietary recommendations and take effect in 2015, Disney said.

The Associated Press reported that kids' meals offered by traditional fast-food chains may not meet the new guidelines, even those with more healthful side orders, says Leslie Goodman, Disney's senior vice president of corporate citizenship. That's because Disney will be assessing the restaurant's broader offerings in deciding whether to approve ads.

For example, a complete meal under Disney's guidelines could have no more than 600 calories and a side dish no more than 200 calories.

Bob Iger, the chairman and CEO of Disney, said there could be a short-term reduction in advertising revenue, AP reported.

The food industry has opposed government regulations of advertising, and new products arrive on shelves every week that show companies’ efforts to appeal with sugar-free or high-fiber or low-fat alternatives to snacks and other products.

Under Disney’s new standards, all food and beverage products advertised, sponsored, or promoted on Disney Channel, Disney XD, Disney Junior, Radio Disney, and Disney-owned online destinations oriented to families with younger children will be required to meet Disney’s nutrition guidelines. 
Disney  also introduced the “Mickey Check” icon that will appear on food and menu items sold in stores, online and at its U.S. parks.

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