Disney joins the obesity fight with tough ad rules

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, reports Reuters.


Announced yesterday with much fanfare and kudos from first lady Michelle Obama, the initiative will end some junk-food advertising on Disney television, radio and online programs intended for children age 12 and younger. Disney also launched its "Mickey Check" label for food it considers nutritious to help promote certain healthier foods in grocery stores and other retailers.


"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, and he hopes it will spur change among food and beverage makers. 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.


New guidelines, which take effect in 2015 (giving the food industry an opportunity to reformulate some products), set limits on the number of calories and amount of fat and added sugar for main and side dishes and snacks. Health advocates welcomed the initiative from the $41 billion media and theme park giant, which apparently believes that junk food ads are a contributor to the obesity crisis. Disney cited Kraft Foods Inc.'s Oscar Mayer Lunchables and Capri Sun as products that would not make the cut.


"This is huge," said Obama, who champions 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 U.S. 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?"


The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) said its member companies welcome Disney's announcement and "enthusiastically support" Obama's initiative. And 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.