Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff/File
Disney plans to junk the junk food ads on children's programming. Michelle Obama endorses the move. Here, potato chips cook in a bath of oil in a Hyannis, Mass. factory.

Disney: No more junk food ads for kids; and Mrs. Obama backs it

Disney plans to junk the junk food ads in kids' TV programming. Anti-obesity crusader, first lady Michele Obama, will be at the announcement today to endorse the move.

No more Cheetos for Cinderella.

Walt Disney Chairman and CEO Robert Iger says he is planning to announce later today that by 2015 his company will advertise only healthy (or at least healthier) foods on its kids-focused television programming.

That means items such as Kraft Lunchables meals or Capri Sun drinks – existing advertised products – may no longer be promoted on the Disney Channel, Disney XD, Disney Junior, Radio Disney, and Saturday morning programming for kids. (Disney owns ABC.)  Also on the outs will be any number of sugary, sweet, nutritionally vapid candies, cereals, and fast food items, although “healthier” versions of these items may still make the cut.

The company will also reduce the amount of sodium by 25 percent in kids' meals served at its theme parks, according to press reports, a move that puts it in line with other public health efforts targeting American sodium consumption.

First Lady Michelle Obama is expected to be on hand for the announcement. Ms. Obama, whose “Let’s Move!” campaign works against childhood obesity, has partnered with Disney’s healthy living efforts in the past, and says she hopes this latest step will be a model for other US companies.

“This new initiative is truly a game changer for the health of our children,” she said in a statement. “With this new initiative, Disney is doing what no major media company has ever done before in the US – and what I hope every company will do going forward.  When it comes to the ads they show and the food they sell, they are asking themselves one simple question: ‘Is this good for our kids?’”

Well, perhaps not just that one simple question.

While he told The New York Times that “companies in a position to help with solutions to childhood obesity should do just that,” Mr. Iger added: “This is not altruistic. This is about smart business.”

Disney markets health food for children, and says consumers have purchased billions of servings of its fruits and vegetables.

But so it goes. Better than Disney fries, right?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity affects 17 percent of all children and adolescents in the country – triple the rate of a generation ago. Most of the CDC's recommendations for helping the problem revolve around access to either better food or more activity.

Many children’s health advocates, though, say advertising is also a big problem. Companies have long targeted poor nutrition products at children. 

In 2005, nine out of 10 advertisements shown during Saturday morning children’s television programming were for unhealthy foods, according to a Center for Science in the Public Interest survey, and 74 percent of these ads used cartoon characters to sell the products.  (One hundred percent of the cereal ads also pushed their products as part of a “complete” or “balanced” breakfast, the group found.)

And it’s not just cartoons. The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, for instance, is petitioning PBS to end a collaboration between the children's show “Martha Speaks” and fast food purveyor Chick-fil-A. The group noted that in 2011 some 56 million Chick-fil-A Kid’s Meals were distributed in “Martha Speaks" co-branded bags.

“PBS deserves a ton of awards,” the group says. “But not for selling kids on fast food.”

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