On Tuesday, The Walt Disney Company announced that products advertised on its kid-focused television channels, radio stations and websites will have to comply with new nutrition standards. Many products now advertised on Disney media will be banned come 2015. Existing contracts with advertisers prevent the restrictions from going into effect any earlier.
Public health and nutrition experts agree with Michelle Obama, who called this a “game changer” at the news conference with Disney where the announcement was made, with the hope that the likes of Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network will follow the example.
It is a significant step forward in the campaign to regulate food marketing to children, to be sure, but not all junk foods will be hidden from view. “This limits the marketing of the worst junk foods,” Margo G. Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said, but kids will still see ads for SpaghettiOs and cereals with as much sugar as three Chips Ahoy cookies. Disney will make its guidelines available starting June 12 at www.thewaltdisneycompany.com/mohl.
However good this may be for our children, make no mistake that this is first and foremost a business decision by Disney. “Taking steps to combat childhood obesity allows Disney the opportunity to polish its brand as one families can trust—something that drives sales of everything from Pixar DVDs to baby clothes to theme park vacations,” writes Brooks Barnes for The New York Times. “In addition, Disney has carefully studied the marketplace and executives say they believe there is increasing consumer demand for more nutritious food.”
By establishing new nutrition guidelines and advertising restrictions, Disney is acknowledging the key role that marketing plays in influencing kids’ choices and preferences. For many years food industry representatives have tried to argue otherwise, claiming, for example, that advertising only encourages brand loyalty. In 2005, however, the Institute of Medicine published a report stating, in no uncertain terms, that “current food and beverage marketing practices put children’s long-term health at risk.” So the industry had to come up with a response. The following year, many of the nation’s largest food and beverage companies, including McDonald’s, General Mills and Kraft Foods, formed The Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), an initiative to self-regulate but that can only also be self-interested.
It comes as no surprise that the CFBAI’s standards are not up to par, allowing many products of minimal nutritional value to be marketed to children. Government’s response was to sponsor the formation of the Interagency Working Group (IWG), which includes the FDA, FTC, USDA, and CDC, and to charge it with the task of reviewing the science and making its own recommendations for nutrition standards for food marketed to kids. Unfortunately, the IWG’s proposal has been stuck in Congress for many months now, in face of vigorous lobbying by food and beverage companies. “It’s hard to believe how thoroughly Congress is in bed with the food industry,” writes food policy expert Marion Nestle.
Food marketing to children absolutely has to be regulated because, as Wootan argues in a statement made to Congress, we “are outgunned by industry that has psychologists, market research, great music, cartoon characters, and other sophisticated marketing techniques at its disposal.” And it has to be regulated by government, because it isn’t the industry’s priority or responsibility to look out for the health and well-being of our children. It’s too bad there isn’t a lot of money in peddling fruits, vegetables, and cooking with fresh ingredients at home.
Photo Credit: therealbrute