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Disney’s Diet: Less Junk Food Ads

June 7th, 2012

Ingredients in food like this would be reviewed to meet new nutrition standards before they'd be advertised by Disney. Photo credit: Flickr user: TheFoodJunk/Creative Commons

The Walt Disney Company — one of the biggest media companies in the world for kids — made a very big announcement this week. They’re going to stop advertising junk food to kids.

This is important because eating junk food, and not getting enough exercise, are being linked to more and more health problems in kids. One in every 3 children and teenagers in the U.S. is now overweight or obese! Obese means excessively overweight. This statistic is according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC is a government agency that helps monitor the country’s health. Years ago, we mainly saw these problems in adults but now we’re seeing them in kids, too. Being overweight or obese can lead to heart problems, is a risk for Type-2 Diabetes, and can lead to other health problems.

When we keep seeing commercials for toys, restaurants, cars, food, and other things, it’s hard not to want them. A lof of companies’ ads will make their product look like you’ll be happier somehow if you have it. And in the case of junk food — because the junk food makers want you to buy it so they can make money  — they don’t tell you it’s bad for you. This can be confusing for adults, but it’s especially confusing for kids. Kids don’t have as much life experience yet and tend to believe what people tell them.

Some organizations say that companies shouldn’t be allowed to advertise directly to kids at all.

Ads you see and hear are one of the major ways a media company, like Disney, makes money. A company with something to sell will make a commercial and then they’ll pay Disney money (usually lots!) to show their ad.  Disney owns the Disney channel, has shows on the ABC network, makes movies, has radio stations and websites, which reach millions of kids every day. That’s very powerful.

So when millions of kids are being bombarded by tons of junk food ads, it can become a big contributor to the growing number of kids’ health problems.

Junk food can include products that have too much sugar, too much salt, too much fat, and chemicals (like food coloring and preservatives). Food that grows in nature, like fruits and vegetables, often don’t have someone to make ads for them, or there’s not as much money to spend on it if they do.

Photo by Flickr user Carol Moshier via Creative Commons

Disney worked with nutrition experts and the U.S. government’s nutrition guidelines to make sure that the ads you see by 2015 (in 3 years) will meet Disney’s improved nutrition standards. This means that some products (like Capri Sun and Kraft Lunchables, according to The New York Times ) won’t be able to show their ads. It also means that some companies now have to go back and figure out a way to make their snacks, cereals and drinks, for example, healthy enough to meet the standards.

Disney will have a “Mickey Check” logo on products to serve as a bit of a short cut for shoppers to know if a product meets the criteria. Some people like this idea but others don’t. Those who don’t say that it isn’t for Disney to approve what’s right for kids to eat and what’s not. There’s also a lot of symbols like that out there from other groups and after a while people stop paying much attention.

Is Disney doing this only because they care about your health? Partially, but not entirely. Even the head of Disney, Robert Iger, said in an interview with The New York Times that it’s a good business decision.

Are the ads you’re going to see, and the packages with the “Mickey Check” on them, going to be perfectly nutritious? Not necessarily. So you still have to inform yourself. Margo Wootan, the Director of Nutrition Policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest told The New York Times , “This limits the marketing of the worst junk foods, but it won’t mean you’re only going to see ads for apples, bananas, and oranges, either.”

But First Lady Michelle Obama, who was at the announcement said, “This new initiative is truly a game changer for the health of our children. … 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?’ ”

Many believe it’s a step in the right direction.

To read more about Disney’s guidelines , click here.

To educate yourself about how media, including ads, influences kids, click here for TheLampNYC.org

To read more about Food Policy and Obesity , click here.

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