Disney Tightens Their Belt and Cuts Junk Food Advertising

The Walt Disney Company is opening up a new chapter of their already illustrious career. In a recent news conference with First Lady Michelle Obama, the entertainment juggernaut announced that junk food advertising will no longer be allowed on any of its TV, radio, or website programming aimed towards children. Prompted by a growing obesity problem within this country, this recent move aims reduce this unhealthy trend by making unhealthy eating habits less accessible.

Michelle Obama, whose Let’s Move campaign was launched to help curb childhood obesity in this country, praises Disney’s decision and has referred to it as a “game changer.” While the plan is not scheduled to start until 2015 (to avoid conflict with already existing advertising contracts), it is already expected to lead a noticeable shift in advertising. “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 major TV network, we wouldn’t have believed you,” explained Obama.

When this new initiative is put into action, any Disney programming that is aimed towards children 12-years-old or younger will have to meet a proposed set of guidelines (including on sister-stations like ABC and its Saturday morning cartoons).  Any meal, fast-food for instance, must be less than 600 calories and all side dishes cannot be any more than 200 calories a piece. Additionally snacks like Capri Sun juice or Oscar Mayer Lunchables can no longer be advertised with Disney—too much sugar and sodium, respectively. Cereals that contain more than 10 grams of sugar per serving will also be getting the axe.

What is more, according to Disney’s senior vice president of corporate citizenship Leslie Goodman, Disney will also be looking at a company’s wider range of offerings before granting ad approval.  “It’s not just about reformulating a meal for a single advertising opportunity,” said Goodman. By focusing on a company’s overall list of options, Disney is taking an even firmer stance with whom they choose to be advertising.

Brian Wansink, a professor at the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics at Cornell University, believes that Disney will be setting a new precedent where programs claim more responsibility for the health and well-being of their audience.  “This is the smart way to run a healthy kingdom,” explains Wansink. “This will help advertisers step up their game and make the commercials for healthier food even more compelling.” A double-pronged approach helps healthier food companies get notice while forcing bigger names in the fast/junk food industries to alter their products.

At a time when childhood obesity rates are at an all-time high, any positive changes in how we approach kids about the kinds of food they eat is necessary.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 17% of children in American are considered obese—a rate that has tripled within the last generation. The give and take between programming and advertising is often times a tricky one and Americans have shown that they do not like being told what to do (for example, the backlash surrounding New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s recent move to ban the sale of sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces). Disney has proven that it is willing to stand up for a greater cause.

Disney has now put the pressure on other networks, like Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network, to see what their next moves will be—if there is any. In the end, what is most important is the health of America’s youth and instilling in them good eating habits that they can then take with them into the future. To express gratitude to Disney in helping to combat childhood obesity, sign the petition here.  


Photo Credit: legis.wisconsin.gov/eupdates/asm39/Mickey-mouse2.jpg

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