June 5, 2012

Disney Getting Healthier By Trimming Junk Food Advertising

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com

Walt Disney and the Mickey Mouse crew are jumping on to the healthy bandwagon, setting a new standard for food advertising.

The Walt Disney Co. announced on Monday that it plans to advertise only healthier foods on its TV programming.

The company said that it plans to have all its advertisers meet its nutrition criteria for limiting calories and reducing saturated fat, sodium and sugar by 2015.

Although one may assume that a company with its mascot being a mouse may consider cheese as the only viable option for a healthy snack, Walt Disney is actually reaching beyond "Mickey Mouse" standards and using expert guidelines for the future nutritional criteria.

The company is looking to nutrition criteria created by experts to reflect the government's dietary guidelines.

"Parents can be confident that foods associated with Disney characters or advertised on Disney platforms meet our new, healthier nutrition guidelines," Robert Iger, chairman and CEO of Disney said in a statement.

Disney said it is already working with major food companies to reformulate products that can be advertised, promoted or sponsored on the Disney Channel, Disney XD, Disney Junior, Radio Disney, Disney.com and Saturday morning programming for kids on ABC-owned stations.

First Lady Michelle Obama, who has been working on making America healthier throughout her husband's years in office, praised Disney's new move.

"This new initiative is truly a game changer for the health of our children," she said in a statement. "With this new 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 are asking themselves one simple question: 'Is this good for our kids?' "

Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington D.C.-based consumer group, called out other children's networks to follow Disney's footsteps.

"This should be a real wake-up call to Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network to do the same," she said in a statement.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, food and beverage companies spend about $2 billion a year on advertising and production promotion targeted at young consumers.

Wootan said Disney's nutrition guidelines will get rid of advertising for junk food like candy and sugary drinks.

Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, recognized that Disney's move could actually come with a decline in revenues, so it should be more reason to "commend them."

"These self-imposed restrictions will be good for kids and empower parents," Leibowitz said in a statement.

This is not the first move Disney has ever made to try and promote a healthier diet for its target audience.

In 2006, Disney introduced nutrition guidelines for food products promoted with company characters. Disney also began offering healthier kids' meals, serving carrots and other vegetables and fruits at meals at the theme parks.

Disney is introducing the "Mickey Check" as part of its new changes as well. This symbol will be put on food and beverage products and menu items that meet the company's nutrition standards.

As part of the guidelines, foods served in the park in 2013 will need to have a 25 percent decrease in levels of sodium in well-balanced kids' meals.

Disney is also expanding its offering of fruits and vegetables to 350 of 400 food venues in its domestic parks by 2013.