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Disney Bans Junk Food Marketing from its Network Kingdom

Over the next three years, the Walt Disney Company will phase junk food advertising out of its TV and radio programming targeted at kids.

Under the new plan – announced Tuesday – all foods marketed on Disney’s channels will have to meet the company’s nutrition guidelines, created in 2006 and recently updated to align with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Disney is the first company to take such a step against marketing unhealthy foods to kids.

Last year the Interagency Working Group of Food Marketed to Children submitted to Congress a preliminary set of nutritional guidelines for kid-focused advertising. The voluntary guidelines set limits for added sugars, fats and sodium in advertised foods and promote fruits, vegetables and foods high in whole grains and protein.

These guidelines have been met with harsh industry lash back. A group of media companies, fast food chains and food producers came together following the release of the draft guidelines to lobby Congress, arguing that the proposed standards exclude too many healthy foods in addition to unhealthy ones.

Disney has taken a different tack, choosing to take its own measures to self-regulate.

“We’re proud of the impact we’ve had over the last six years,” said Robert A. Iger, Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company in a statement Tuesday.  “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.”

The Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), a coalition that includes 80 percent of food advertisers, said self-regulation is the right move when it comes to junk food marketing.

“CFBAI participants believe that self regulation is the best approach to improving child-directed food and beverage advertising,” said Elaine Kolish, Vice President of CFBAI and Director of the Better Business Bureau. “We encourage all children’s food and beverage advertisers to participate in being a part of the solution, just as CFBAI participants have.”

According to CFBAI, the group has been promoting science-based advertising criteria for ads targeted towards kids for the past 5 years.

Along with this new health initiative, Disney unveiled its new “Mickey Check,” a symbol that will be used to mark nutritious foods on menus and packaging.

First Lady Michele Obama, who has championed the fight against childhood obesity with her Let’s Move! Initiative, praised Disney’s latest steps to promote healthy eating during a Tuesday press conference.

“Make no mistake about it – this is huge,” she said. “Just think about it. Just a few years ago if you had told me or any other mom or dad in America that our kids wouldn’t see a single ad for junk food while they watched their favorite cartoons on a major TV network, we wouldn’t have believed you because parents know better than anyone else just how effective and pervasive those advertisements have become.”

“I am thrilled that Disney is stepping forward in such a big way to stand alongside America’s parents,” she continued. “I am thrilled that they’re raising their nutrition standards and introducing the Mickey Check and making it easier for moms and dads to make those decisions.”

The Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), an organization focused on combating childhood obesity, also lauded the move.

“With television channels in more than 100 million homes and more than 12 million kids’ meals served last year alone, Disney is in a unique position to help kids and families live healthier,” said Lawrence A. Soler, CEO of PHA in a statement Tuesday.

“While there is much more to do, today’s announcement is a testament to the important role the private sector plays in making the healthy choice the easy choice for busy parents and families. We hope this commitment will inspire others to adopt similar standards so that together, we can bring an end to the childhood obesity crisis.”

Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which has long advocated for restricting junk food marketing for children, commended Disney for leading the media industry in taking these steps and called on other networks to follow suit.

“Disney’s announcement is welcome news to parents and health experts concerned about childhood obesity and nutrition,” Wootan 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. As a nation, all companies should be working toward promoting only healthy food through all forms of child-directed media.”

Speaking at Disney’s press conference yesterday, Elizabeth Pivonka, president and CEO of Produce for Better Health foundation (PBH) said Disney has long supported the group’s message of the benefits of fruits and vegetables. Tuesday’s announcement will supplement the government’s new initiative to make fruits and veggies a greater part of the American diet, in accordance with the Dietary Guidelines, said Pivonka.

“The new standards are a perfect complement and support mechanism for the recommendation to make half the plate fruits and vegetables, she said. “I commend them on adopting these standards and look forward to continuing to work with their committed staff for years to come.”

© Food Safety News
  • John

    You keep using that word; I don’t think it means what you think it means.
    Calling a food “unhealthy” means that the actual food item itself is in a state of poor health. The proper term to use is “unhealthful.” A diseased apple and a downer cow are unhealthY foods. Candy and soda pop are unhealthFUL foods. A person can become unhealthY if he eats too much unhealthFUL food. Eating healthFUL food can help make you healthY.

  • Hi John,
    Thanks for bringing up this question. You’re right, “unhealthy” can mean that something is not in good health. That is the second definition in Merriam-Webster’s entry for “unhealthy,” available here: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/unhealthy.
    The first definition, though, is “not conducive to health.” This meaning is the one I used in this article. You’re also right that “unhealthful” means “detrimental to good health,” and would be a good word to use when writing about food that’s bad for one’s health as well.
    Thanks again for bringing up that discussion point. Words like “unhealthy” are used so much these days that it’s good to go back and examine what they mean.

  • Hi John,
    Thanks for bringing up this question. You’re right, “unhealthy” can mean that something is not in good health. That is the second definition in Merriam-Webster’s entry for “unhealthy,” available here: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/unhealthy.
    The first definition, though, is “not conducive to health.” This meaning is the one I used in this article. You’re also right that “unhealthful” means “detrimental to good health,” and would be a good word to use when writing about food that’s bad for one’s health as well.
    Thanks again for bringing up that discussion point. Words like “unhealthy” are used so much these days that it’s good to go back and examine what they mean.

  • Diane

    I’m pleased to read that Disney would like to set standards on the healthiness of food they advertise, this will certainly affect the health of our kids. It is alarming how much of an emotional connection these kids have with many of the characters involved in the advertising of these junk foods. Although I’m able to feed my kids healthily, these commercials can sometimes have a large influence on them still. One tool I like to use to monitor what commercials my kids see is the Auto Hop feature which comes with my Hopper DVR. This allows me to completely skip commercials recorded during prime time, with the single push of a button. I was excited when my Dish coworker suggested the upgrade because I can control what commercials my kids are exposed to easier.