Disney Will Ban Junk-Food Ads on Kids Programs by 2015

Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom in Orlando
Guests walk along Main Street USA at the Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida, March 5, 2008. Photographer: Matt Stroshane/Bloomberg

Walt Disney Co., aiming to combat childhood obesity by banning junk-food ads, will require that food and beverage advertising to kids on its TV networks and radio stations meet new nutritional standards by 2015.

The guidelines, which follow federal recommendations, are designed to promote fruits and vegetables, limit calories, and curb the intake of saturated fat, salt and sugar, Burbank, California-based Disney said in a statement. By the end of this year, food products will begin bearing the “Mickey Check” logo, signaling that they meet the standards.

The effort, announced today at an event with first lady Michelle Obama, expands on Disney’s adoption of nutritional guidelines in 2006. Disney is the world’s largest entertainment company, with holdings that include film studios, theme parks, radio stations and the ABC broadcast network. The company’s media networks generated $7.6 billion in advertising revenue in its most recent fiscal year, an increase of 8 percent.

The guidelines give specific standards. Breakfast cereals, for example, should have no more than 130 calories and fewer than 10 grams of sugar per ounce.

Disney was the first major media company to set nutrition guidelines for licensed food products and taking this next step is “a win for us, a win for food companies, and a big win for families,” Chief Executive Officer Robert Iger said at the Washington event.

Sales Boost?

Giving parents assurance that Disney-branded products are healthy will ultimately increase sales, he said. “We can create huge change without having the government step in.”

Iger declined to comment on which products don’t meet the standards, beyond saying that there were “a lot.”

“We hope to work with these companies so that they can continue advertising on our programs with a product that is nutritious and meets our guidelines,” he said.

The first lady, who appeared with Iger, said the company’s move is “truly a game changer for the health of our children.”

Kids are exposed to $1.6 billion a year of food and beverage marketing, Obama said. They are “constantly bombarded with sophisticated messages” designed to lure them to products that aren’t always healthy for them, she said.

“They’ve realized that what is good for our children can also be good business,” she said, adding that she hopes other companies take notice. Obama encouraged parents to vote with their wallets to encourage companies that make the right decision.

Biggest Challenge

David Kessler, who was Food and Drug Administration commissioner from 1990 to 1997, said “confronting obesity is as hard a public health challenge as anything we’ve ever tackled.”

The effort to change American eating habits “is going to take decades,” he said. “There’s no magic bullet here. It’s changing how we as a country, as individuals, look at food.”

In 2006, Disney began serving healthier food at its theme parks and resorts. Eighty-five percent of its licensed food products in the U.S. meet the nutrition guidelines, and the company plans to further cut the amount of sugar and salt in the products, Disney said today.

Kraft Foods Inc., a maker of products that would be covered by the new advertising guidelines, spends more than $440 million annually to advertise on television and cable networks, according to Kantar Media.

Kraft is reviewing Disney’s new guidelines and welcomes its efforts to combat childhood obesity, Valerie Moens, a company spokeswoman, said via e-mail.

Disney shares gained 1 percent to $44.84 at the close in New York. Kraft declined less than 1 percent to $37.60.

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