Disney junk-food ad ban latest move to slim U.S. kids
WASHINGTON - Media and entertainment giant Walt Disney Co has raised the stakes in the nation's fight against childhood obesity by limiting junk food advertising, but it is not clear how the warmly-received effort will impact children's waistlines. The move, announced on Tuesday in a high-profile event featuring first lady Michelle Obama and lots of fresh fruit, will end some junk-food advertising on Disney television, radio and online programs intended for children age 12 and younger. Disney is also launching its own “Mickey Check” label for food it deems to be nutritious to help promote certain healthier foods in grocery stores and other retailers.
It is the latest plan in a number of efforts ranging from voluntary industry action to government and policy steps to help curb consumption of high-calorie, low-nutrition foods that are just part of the nation’s obesity epidemic, including a ban on jumbo-sized sugary drinks in New York City proposed last week. The announcement confirmed details sources gave Reuters on Monday. “We want parents to know that the food products that we license and the ones promoted and advertised within our kids programming will be held to the same healthier standards,” Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger said. The new guidelines, which take effect in 2015, set limits on the number of calories and amount of fat and added sugar for main and side dishes and snacks.
Kraft Foods Inc’s Oscar Mayer Lunchables and Capri Sun products, for example, would not make the cut, Disney said. The move was roundly welcomed by Obama and other health advocates for putting the might of the $ 41 billion media and theme-park company be hind the growing sense of urgency to combat the rise of overweight and obese children and teenagers. Nearly one-third of U.S. children are overweight or obese, and research shows youth are increasingly being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases related to obesity that were once thought of as only adult conditions. Data has shown junk food ads as one major contributor to the problem.
“This is huge,” said Obama, an exercise buff who has championed healthier eating and exercise habits aimed at children as part of her “Let’s Move” initiative. “Disney is doing what no major media company has ever done before in the United States. And what I hope every company will do going forward when it comes to the ads they show and the food they sell they’re asking themselves one simple question: Is this good for our kids?” Obama said. Iger said he hoped the move would help spur industry change among food and beverage makers. Various industry groups and food and beverage makers said they already take steps to limit promotions to children under 12. The Grocery Manufacturers Association said its member companies welcome Disney’s announcement and “enthusiastically support” Obama’s initiative . Last year, top U.S. food and drink makers including Kraft Foods, Coca-Cola and Kellogg Co agreed to voluntary nutrition criteria for products marketed toward children under the age of 12.
A 2006 Institute of Medicine report said junk food marketing contributed to childhood obesity. That same year Disney, which owns the ABC-TV network and a host of cable channels, introduced voluntary guidelines that prohibited licensing of Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters for foods that do not meet minimum nutritional requirements. That helped sell more than 2 billon servings of Disney-licensed fruits and vegetables since then, Iger said at the event, which featured a Mickey Mouse character making yogurt parfaits surrounded by buckets of lemons, oranges and apples.
Its theme parks also started offering carrots and milk -- rather than fries and soda -- as the default choice for kids meals and saw that 60 per cent of parents chose the healthier option, he added. Disney’s new effort will not allow advertising during children’s programming on its networks, including ABC and Disney XD and its child-focused websites, for foods that fail to meet minimum nutrition requirements. The company could not say how many products would be affected by the new rules, but experts said not all unhealthy foods will disappear. Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, welcomed the effort but said parents will still likely see ads for sugar-filled cereals, canned pasta and other foods that are not as healthy. Overall, however, it’s a landmark step, she said.
“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,” said Wootan, whose organization has lobbied for better nutrition standards for food eaten by children. Nickelodeon and CHILDREN’S CHOICES Cartoon Network, two other cable television channels aimed at children, had no immediate comment. Nickelodeon is owned by Viacom Inc and Cartoon Network is owned by Time Warner Inc. The move by Disney follows New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal last week to ban sales of sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces (about half a liter) in most restaurants, theaters, delis and vending carts throughout the city to curb obesity.