According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years and, in 2008, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese. Today that number is still climbing. Countless studies have delved into the reasons why–why are today’s children so unhealthy compared to past generations? How can families keep eating and lifestyle habits under control? What is really causing this influx of unhealthiness?
A popular scapegoat is the ever-encroaching grasp of the media and over-saturation of children with advertising, whether on television, online, in the supermarket, etc. And rightly so. Several studies (and here and here) have proven the media’s powerful influence over people’s lifestyles and decision making, and children are no exception to the rule. But what can be done to combat it?
Disney has taken matters into its own four-fingered cartoon hands to promote and encourage healthier life choices for children, and it’s using the media itself to do it. Earlier this week, The Walt Disney Company announced its new commitment to ban any and all food advertising neglecting to meet specific nutrition and health requirements. This commitment builds off the company’s “Magic of Healthy Living” initiative and nutrition guidelines established in 2006, which require:
- A cap on calories in appropriate kid-sized portions.
- Total fat to not exceed 30 percent of calories for main and side dishes and 35 percent for snacks.
- Saturated fat to not exceed 10 percent of calories for main dishes, side dishes and snacks.
- Added sugar to not exceed 10 percent of calories for main dishes and side dishes and 25 percent of calories for snacks.
- A limited number of indulgence items in its licensed portfolio (reduced to 15 percent in 2010). Most special-occasion sweets will be available in single-serving packets.
These regulations all align with current federal standards.
To complement the initiative, a “Mickey Check” tool icon will stamp nutritious food and menu items sold in stores, online, at restaurants and food venues at its U.S. Parks and Resorts, and on qualified recipes on Disney.com and Family.com by the end of this year.
This mission has so far been seen as a success. Since 2006, Disney Consumer Products (DCP) has sold more than two billion servings of Disney licensed fruits and vegetables in North America, and has transformed its food offerings resulting in 85 percent of all U.S. licensed products meeting the company’s nutrition guidelines and only 15 percent reserved for special occasion treats.
“We’re proud of the impact we’ve had over the last six years,” said Robert A. Iger, Chairman and CEO, The Walt Disney Company. “We’ve taken steps across our company to support better choices for families, and now we’re taking the next important step forward by setting new food advertising standards for kids. The emotional connection kids have to our characters and stories gives us a unique opportunity to continue to inspire and encourage them to lead healthier lives.”
Disney is not the only one celebrating. “Disney’s announcement is welcome news to parents and health experts concerned about childhood obesity and nutrition,” said Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, whose organization has lobbied for better nutrition standards for food eaten by children. “This puts Disney ahead of the pack of media outlets and should be a wake-up call to Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network to do the same.”
Disney certainly sets the bar high in terms of corporate social responsibility towards its consumers, and the company’s continued dedication has encouraged other companies to follow suit. Last year, top U.S. food and drink makers Kraft Foods, Coca-Cola and Kellogg agreed to voluntary nutrition criteria for products advertised to children. The Magical World of Disney indeed.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.