LOS ANGELES — The Walt Disney Co. has become the first major media company to ban junk-food advertising on programming that targets children.
Building on a healthful-foods initiative in its theme parks, Disney imposed new standards for food and beverages advertised on Disney XD and during the Saturday morning programs on Disney-owned ABC television stations. Disney Channel and Disney Junior, which are not ad-supported but receive brand sponsorships, would also be covered under the nutrition guidelines, officials said.
Kantar Media, a research firm specializing in advertising, estimated the total amount of ad spending for this kind of advertising on Disney-owned channels and Saturday morning children’s programming on ABC totaled $7.2 million in 2011.
First Lady Michelle Obama, who has made fighting the childhood obesity epidemic and promoting healthful eating a hallmark of her time in the White House, praised Disney’s initiative at a Tuesday news conference at the Newseum in Washington.
“This new initiative is truly a game-changer for the health of our children,” Obama said. “So, for years, people told us that no matter what we did to get our kids to eat well and exercise, we would never solve our childhood obesity crisis until companies changed the way that they sell food to our children. We all know the conventional wisdom about that. ... Today, Disney has turned that conventional wisdom on its head.”
Six years ago, Disney instituted more healthful food options at its Anaheim, Calif., and Orlando, Fla., theme parks, automatically including carrots and low-fat milk in children’s meals unless parents requested otherwise.
It even chose to stop licensing its characters for McDonald’s “Happy Meals,” citing the links between fast food and childhood obesity.
Food and beverage advertisers who seek to promote their products on Disney Channel or Disney XD will be required by 2015 to meet guidelines regarding serving size, calories, fat and sugar content. The guidelines are aligned with federal standards promoting fruit and vegetable consumption and calling for limiting calories and reducing saturated fat, sodium and sugar.
Obama said kids are exposed to food and beverage marketing that adds up to an estimated $1.6 billion a year, including many ads for foods that are high in calories and sugar but low in nutrition.