Mickey Takes on ‘Junk Food’

Discussion
Jun 25, 2012

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."

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?

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12 Comments on "Mickey Takes on ‘Junk Food’"


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Ryan Mathews
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

How likely is it that media companies, as a group, will turn their backs on those fast food, carbonated beverage and similar product advertising dollars? I think the answer is, “Don’t hold your breath.”

If every media company programming to children simultaneously changed their policy to ban products of dubious nutritional value, the impact could be profound. But, again, don’t hold your breath.

As to the, “Mickey Check, it seems like a marketing gimmick. The last thing parents need is yet another set of standards. What they do need is a little discipline.

The problem isn’t the products, it’s the fact that parents buy them for their children. Few toddlers are crawling up to the counter for a fun meal.

Good nutrition — like charity — begins at home.

Liz Crawford
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

Sure, this will have some positive impact — especially on younger children and even some lower income households. However, I don’t believe that older children will be put off their sour patch kids. Kids have liked intensely sweet things forever and that will continue, regardless of Disney’s efforts. (Heck, I was eating button candy off of long rolls of paper and wax lips. Yeesh — How Old Am I?!!)

Brian Numainville
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

As Ryan said, if every media company programming to children simultaneously changed their policy to ban products of dubious nutritional value, the impact could be profound. On the other hand, change often begins with something small and if any momentum develops it could be a positive. As the parent of a child who had weight issues since a very young age and hired both a personal trainer and a nutritionist to try to deal with it, all of the media messages (not to mention school lunches) at the time certainly didn’t help!

Ben Ball
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

Impact on kids? Not much.

It may have more impact on moms than kids. Especially if the “Mickey Check” catches on. I wonder how long it will take for Disney to realize they can replace the lost ad revenue (if there is any) by charging for the right to use the Mickey Check?

J. Peter Deeb
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

I don’t believe we have any game changers in either the removal of ads or the “Mickey Check” on products. Until parents and educators do the correct job of managing their kids diets and encouraging exercise, no amount of restrictions will totally solve the problem. When school systems drop physical education classes and serve junk food at lunch, what message are they sending?

Robert DiPietro
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

Game changer! Disney can be very influential in changing kids habits. Based on the amount of Disney programming being watched by kids these days — at the impressionable ages — it’s not a far cry that kids will ask for a snack with the “Mickey Check” on it.

It could open up entire new revenue stream for them as well with the “Mickey Check.”

Kitchen research now begins — how long before my own kids mention the “Mickey Check”?

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

This will not have the impact on kids that they want you to think. It will have no impact unless the mothers decide to make it better. Good and bad habits; both begin at home, not at Disney World.

Roy White
Guest
Roy White
9 years 10 months ago

This is a great move, and some good is bound to come of it. However, like many of these initiatives the devil is in the details — and how strong the commitment of corporate management actually is to really provide really nutritious food to kids. It’s easy to say junk food is being banished, but I note from the comment from the nutritionist was that she “wished the guidelines were stricter.” Giving up the sale of profitable food is no easy task.

Roger Saunders
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

The Disney move is a game influencer, which will reach a certain audience who will be responsive. Fly through the Orlando Airport — I pass through about 20 times per year. You see a cross-section of consumers coming through — adults and kids. This is an obese nation; people know it, but they are not taking control of their lives enough to do something about it.

Disney’s actions while admirable, will not be a game changer — you can bet the bag of chips and can of soda that enough consumers are going to call off our poor dietary practices of the past 30 years.

Roger Saunders
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

Don’t blame the food industry, they are merely filling a demand. Get the message to the parents, as they are the decision-makers. Fat parents are breeding fat kids.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

The NNAR (Notcom News Article Reading) Standards dictate that I immediately discount by 95% anything the CSPI sticks its nose into — and I’d be reluctant to call one of its directors a “nutritionist” — but that notwithstanding, I’d put this effort into the same group as most people here: won’t hurt/won’t help much.

Jerry Gelsomino
Guest
9 years 10 months ago

Media companies like Disney can have a great effect on encouraging eating habits, but the power they wield must be controlled carefully. They can’t go off without the facts of what’s best for children, or adults for that matter As an entertainment company, they have to remain independent from food manufacturers or retailers. Remember when the company tested Mickey Diners, or whatever they were called?

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