Disney’s Diet: No More Junk Food Ads on Kids Channels

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On Tuesday, Walt Disney Co. announced it will ban all junk food advertising from its TV channels, websites and radio programs catering to children. Companies advertising food and beverages during Disney programming will be required to meet the Disney’s nutritional guidelines.

Disney is the first major media brand to make such a move — First Lady Michelle Obama, whose work focuses on reducing child obesity, called the initiative a “game changer” and one that might spur other media companies to follow suit.

The new rules, which won’t take effect until 2015, mean that fast-food, candy and junk-food ads will be dropped from kids’ programming, including Saturday morning cartoons that air on Disney-owned networks. There are other products that won’t make the cut: Capri Sun drinks, because they contain too much sugar, and Kraft Lunchables, which have too much sodium. Most sugary kids cereals — anything with 10 g or more of sugar per serving — also won’t be able to advertise.

Leslie Goodman, Disney’s senior vice president of corporate citizenship, said that many fast food chains may not meet the new advertising standards, even if they specifically create healthy kids meals, the Associated Press reports. Disney will assess each company’s food options broadly before approving ads. “It’s not just about reformulating a meal for a single advertising opportunity,” Goodman told the AP. Under the guidelines, a complete meal can have no more than 600 calories and a side dish no more than 200.

(MORE: Watching TV Steers Kids Toward Eating Junk)

Robert A. Iger, Disney’s chairman, said he expects a short-term dip in advertising revenue, but hopes that food manufacturers will adjust their products to comply with Disney’s standards.

“Companies in a position to help with solutions to childhood obesity should do just that,” he told the New York Times, adding: “This is not altruistic. This is about smart business.” The Times reports:

Taking steps to combat childhood obesity allows Disney the opportunity to polish its brand as one families can trust — something that drives sales of everything from Pixar DVDs to baby clothes to theme park vacations. In addition, Disney has carefully studied the marketplace and executives say they believe there is increasing consumer demand for more nutritious food.

Mr. Iger noted that health food for children had already become “a very, very solid business” for Disney. Since 2006 consumers have purchased about two billion servings of Disney-licensed servings of fruit and vegetables, according to the company.

Disney’s nutritional guidelines [PDF] were originally launched internally in 2006 with the goal of making 85% of the food and drinks served at Disney parks and resorts healthy (the other 15% accounted for special-occasion treats like birthday cake); Disney also stopped using toys in kids’ meals to advertise movies. The company’s guidelines are based on federal nutritional guidelines that encourage all Americans to eat more fruit and veggies and limit calories, saturated fat, sodium and sugar.

“We’re proud of the impact we’ve had over the last six years,” Iger said in a statement. “We’ve taken steps across our company to support better choices for families, and now we’re taking the next important step forward by setting new food advertising standards for kids. The emotional connection kids have to our characters and stories gives us a unique opportunity to continue to inspire and encourage them to lead healthier lives.”

(MORE: The Sad State of American Kids’ Food Environments)

On Tuesday, Disney also introduced its “Mickey Check” seal of approval for Disney-licensed foods in grocery stores and in Disney parks and resorts. The logo, which will be rolled out by the end of 2012, will be placed on packaging of foods that meet Disney’s calorie, fat, sugar and salt standards.

The nutritional standards appear solid, but it remains to be seen how much the Mickey Check symbol will help or confuse consumers, especially in a marketplace already flooded with a baffling variety of healthy-eating symbols.

Overall, however, Disney’s initiative won praise from health experts. Aviva Must, a child-obesity researcher at Tufts School of Medicine, noted that Disney could succeed where the government has fallen short. “There seems to be limited taste for government regulation,” Must told the AP. “So I think a large company like Disney taking a stand and putting in a policy with teeth is a good step.”

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