LOS ANGELES — The Walt Disney Co., in an effort to address concerns about entertainment’s role in childhood obesity, announced Tuesday that all products advertised on its child-focused television channels, radio stations and websites must comply with a strict new set of nutritional standards.
The restrictions on ads extend to Saturday-morning cartoons on ABC stations owned by Disney. Under the new rules, products like Capri Sun drinks and Kraft Lunchables meals – both current Disney advertisers – along with a wide range of candy, sugared cereal and fast food, will no longer be acceptable advertising material.
The initiative, which Disney revealed at a news conference in Washington with first lady Michelle Obama, stretches into other areas. For instance, Disney will reduce sodium by 25 percent in the 12 million children’s meals served annually at its theme parks, and create what it calls fun public service announcements promoting child exercise and healthy eating.
Disney said that in adopting the new advertising standards it was largely following recommendations proposed last year by federal regulators. The suggestions were aimed at inducing the food industry to overhaul the way it markets things like cereal, soda and snacks to children.
Food companies have vociferously fought government regulation on advertising, saying they can take steps on their own. Disney acknowledged it would most likely lose some advertising revenue – it declined to say how much – but that the benefits outweighed the downside. (The Disney Channel does not currently accept traditional ads, although a range of promotions and sponsorships are allowed; other channels like Disney XD are supported by commercials.)
Disney’s ad restrictions, which will not take effect until 2015 because of long-term contracts with advertisers, will apply to any programming aimed at children younger than 12, which includes popular live-action programs as well as cartoons.
Robert A. Iger, Disney’s chairman, said he felt strongly that “companies in a position to help with solutions to childhood obesity should do just that,” but added, “This is not altruistic. This is about smart business.”
Taking steps to combat childhood obesity allows Disney the opportunity to polish its brand as one that families can trust – something that drives sales of everything from Pixar DVDs to baby clothes to theme park vacations. In addition, Disney has carefully studied the marketplace, and executives say they see increasing consumer demand for more nutritious food.
Iger noted that health food for children had already become “a very, very solid business” for Disney. Since 2006, consumers have purchased about 2 billion servings of Disney-licensed fruit and vegetables, according to the company.
Margo G. Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said Disney’s plan put it “far ahead of competitors.” At the same time, she cautioned that Disney’s guidelines still fell short of what her organization would like to see, particularly for cereal. Disney’s new standards require cereal to contain less than 10 grams of sugar per serving, for instance, while Wootan would prefer about six grams.
As part of its initiative, Disney also introduced what it called Mickey Check in grocery store aisles: Disney-licensed products that meet criteria for limited calories, saturated fat, sodium and sugar can display a logo – Mickey Mouse ears and a check mark – on their packaging. By the end of this year, the White House said in a news release Tuesday, “the Mickey Check will appear on licensed foods products, on qualified recipes on Disney.com and Family.com, and on menus and select products at Disney’s Parks and Resorts.”
Disney’s standards are based on the federal government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Federal Trade Commission’s proposed guidelines for food marketing to children.