Mickey Takes on ‘Junk Food’
Walt Disney recently announced plans to become the first media giant to ban "junk food" ads from its kids programming. By 2015, all food and beverage products advertised, promoted or sponsored on Disney TV and radio broadcasts as well as Saturday morning programming for kids on ABC-owned stations will have to meet the company’s nutrition criteria that are largely aligned to federal standards.
Disney also introduced "Mickey Check," a symbol to be featured on food products sold at its parks as well as licensed products sold in grocery stores that meet its guidelines. Building on its nutritional standards first introduced in 2006, sodium levels will be further reduced and fruits/vegetables expanded in kids’ meals sold at its parks.
In an interview with USA Today, Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said Disney’s "Magic of Healthy Living" guidelines will eliminate advertising for "the worst junk food — candy, snack cakes, sugary drinks."
Noting that they exclude "SpaghettiOs and things like that," Ms. Wootan wished the guidelines were stricter. But she called it a "landmark" move that should serve as a "real wake-up call" for Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network to likewise ban ads for sweetened drinks and other unhealthy snacks.
"If we don’t deal with food marketing to kids, we don’t have any chance of addressing childhood obesity," stated Ms. Wootan.
In 2006, Disney removed its film characters from McDonald’s Happy Meals and added the option to substitute carrots for fries in kid meals at its parks as part of its initial healthy-eating push. The launch is said to have helped drive the food industry, fearing government regulations, in 2007 to enact self-imposed rules over kids advertising as well as the introduction of a wave of kid-healthy products and junk food products reformulations.
While potentially walking away from advertising and sponsorships, Disney stands to benefit from being more closely associated with healthy eating, observers said.
Some questioned whether Disney should be guiding eating habits. Critics also said past efforts to curb such advertising had little impact on obesity rates and noted that the food industry had already shifted to targeting family programing and healthy, active themes in advertising.
But Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, was optimistic that Disney was influential enough to drive the industry toward a further reformulation of products while also leading consumers to put more trust in food labels and symbols.
"They have a lot of credibility among families and of course tremendous reach," she told pri.org. If they take a step in the positive direction, then I think the world will have to listen."
- The Walt Disney Company Sets New Standards For Food Advertising To Kids – The Walt Disney Company
- Disney’s Guidelines – The Walt Disney Company
- Disney to quit taking ads for junk food aimed at kids – USA Today
- What Disney’s Junk Food Ad Ban Means for the Future of TV – The Hollywood Reporter
- Promoting Nutrition, Disney to Restrict Junk-Food Ads – The New York Times
- Disney sets new nutritional standards for advertisers – Pri.org
Discussion Questions: How influential can media companies such as Disney be in encouraging healthier eating habits for kids? Do you see Disney’s “Mickey Check” nutritional symbol or its junk food ban as potential game changers?