Disney sets new nutritional standards for advertisers
Disney announced new advertising guidelines Tuesday for ads on Disney’s TV stations, its websites, and its radio stations, banning ads for fast foods and sugary cereals that do not meet the company's nutrition standards.
Walt Disney is the latest company to jump on the childhood anti-obesity bandwagon.
On Tuesday, The Walt Disney Co. announced a new initiative to advertise healthier food products on all its media platforms for children.
The company said that ads for sugary cereals and junk foods will eventually be phased out. By 2015, all companies advertising food products with Disney will be required to comply with new nutritional standards and guidelines.
According to the Associated Press, First Lady Michelle Obama called the new standards a "game changer" that she hopes will send a message to the rest of the children's entertainment industry.
Keith Ayoob, associate clinical professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, helped develop Disney’s new nutritional standards.
“Back in 2006, the ban went toward promotions and sponsorships, as well as licensed characters on food packages. But at that point, advertising was still accepted. Now it won’t be,” Ayoob said.
Disney also introduced "Mickey Check,” its seal of approval for nutritious foods sold in stores, online and at its parks and resorts.
In addition, the company has continued to upgrade the food sold at its parks by offering healthier default meals and several healthy food options.
Ayoob said although it’s still possible to get unhealthier food options like a burger and fries and a soda, the difference is that you now have to opt out of the healthier meals that are bundled together.
“You can do that, but it’s a little bit more difficult and people tend to not do it as much. In fact, it’s been found by Disney that about six out of every 10 parents just accept the healthier default options. Which is a really good thing for kids. That’s a huge step in the right direction,” Ayoob said.
While the new guidelines may affect Disney’s bottom line, they also create an opportunity for other types of advertising and product reformulation. According to Ayoob, the company’s 2006 ban on unhealthy promotions and sponsorships led food manufacturers to reformulate their products.
“Gradually, what you found is that some things like cereal companies for example, started lowering the sugar in their cereals. Our guidelines were that the sugar level had to be in single digits. That’s exactly what happened,” Ayoob said.
He explained that the new guidelines are not just about banning certain foods or being punitive, but are about promoting good foods.
“There’s also going to be a huge promotion toward breakfast, with greater emphasis on fruits and vegetables, greater emphasis on whole grains and low fat and dairy foods. These are the things that kids' diets need most,” Ayoob noted.
Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, agrees.
“I think the standards are quite good and this should put a lot of pressure on food companies and also the other media that works for children to behave similarly,” she said.
Much of the significance rests on the idea that Disney’s new nutritional standards are stricter than the standards used by many food companies.
“It’s really out of control what the food industry has done with labels on the front of packages. They basically are telling you that things that aren’t really good are. So you can’t really trust the food industry symbols,” she said.
However, Brownell said the “Mickey Check” seal and Disney’s new strict standards will push the industry to reformulate its foods and will lead to consumers having more trust in the food labels and symbols.
“They’re the leader. They have a lot of credibility among families and of course tremendous reach. If they take a step in the positive direction, then I think the world will have to listen," Brownell said. “It looks to me like the criteria are good. So, if you see a food with a Mickey Check, it’s likely to be a pretty healthy food."
The new standards state that any cereal with 10 grams or more of sugar per serving will not be advertised. Disney will also not advertise a full meal that is more than 600 calories.
Leslie Goodman, Disney's senior vice president of corporate citizenship, said Disney will consider a company's broader offerings when deciding whether to approve ads.
"It's not just about reformulating a meal for a single advertising opportunity," Goodman said.
The company will need to show that it offers a range of healthy options, she said.
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