Happiest Place on Earth Strives to be Healthiest

By Maren Stewart; President and CEO of LiveWell Colorado- Denver
Posted

With its beloved characters and nearly a century of tradition, the magical world of Disney has become synonymous with childhood. Unfortunately, obesity has as well. Fortunately, Disney is using its magical influence to benefit the health of our children.

Recently, Disney announced that it will introduce standards for food advertising during programming that targets children and families. Affecting all food and beverage products advertised, sponsored, or promoted on the Disney Channel, Disney XD, Disney Junior, Radio Disney, Disney.com and Saturday morning programming for children on ABC-owned stations (which are also owned by Disney), the new standards will have to meet Disney’s nutrition criteria for limiting calories and reducing saturated fat, sodium and sugar by 2015.

It’s no wonder that headlines across the country are buzzing with this news. With its announcement, Disney becomes the first major media company to set a standard for food advertising on children-focused TV programming – something for which public health professionals, nonprofits, researchers, parents and concerned citizens have been advocating as our nation’s childhood obesity epidemic has continued to climb.

LiveWell Colorado applauds Disney’s leadership and commitment to helping improve the health of our children. We certainly hope that other media companies will realize this issue is of utmost importance and follow suit.

While a number of factors contribute to obesity and children's poor diets, food marketing plays a key role. A 2009 study conducted by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity demonstrated that children who were exposed to television food advertising consumed an average of 45 percent more snacks than their counterparts who viewed advertising for other products. Another study found that children who are already overweight are even more susceptible to junk food advertisements and will increase consumption by 134 percent.

We know that our children are bombarded with messages at a time when obesity rates are skyrocketing across the country. One out of three American children is overweight or obese and Colorado’s children aren’t faring much better. One quarter of our children are overweight or obese and Colorado has the second-fastest rising childhood obesity rate in the country.

Tackling our country’s childhood obesity epidemic is going to take a multi-pronged approach, with strong leadership from companies like Disney and the involvement of committed health experts such as our Board member Dr. James Hill,  executive director of the Anschutz Health & Wellness Center.

In fact, Dr. Hill was one of the experts who consulted with Disney on the creation of the new standards and has helped make wellness and nutrition part of the company’s culture.

Disney’s most recent efforts build on other initiatives the company has pursued over the last few years. For example, in 2006, Disney introduced nutrition guidelines for food products that are promoted with company characters. Disney theme parks offer healthier kids’ meal options, with healthy sides such as carrots and low-fat milk as the default choice. Likewise, Disney plans to do the following in line with its latest nutrition standards:

  • Introduce the Mickey Check, which will be a symbol that food and beverage products can use if they meet Disney’s nutrition standards;
  • Reduce levels of sodium by 25% in well-balanced kids meals offered at its parks by 2013;
  • Introduce new kids’ breakfast meals that will meet the new nutrition guidelines; and
  • Expand the sale of fruit and vegetables in its domestic parks by 2013 – reaching 350 of 400 food venues.

Disney’s new standards constitute a significant move in the right direction and show the importance of working with industry to make changes necessary for the health of our children. I am hopeful that other companies will follow Disney’s lead. Likewise, I hope that parents and others will show their support for companies like Disney and ask others to help make this the norm, rather than the exception.