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Disney Junk Food Ban – A Dream Come True?

June 11, 2012

NEW YORK - The announcement by the Walt Disney Co. that it would ban junk food advertising on its children's programs and networks is being hailed by First Lady Michelle Obama, who campaigns against obesity and unhealthy food. But do voluntary initiatives by corporations go far enough?

Makani Themba directs the nonprofit group Communities Creating Healthy Environments. She welcomes the move by Disney, but retains some skepticism.

"Disney did not say they were going to stop marketing to kids, they said they were going to stop marketing junk food to kids. There are still some things to watch and to monitor. What does that mean, and what kinds of food, and how do we even understand what are healthy foods? There's a lot of debate about that."

For example, food bloggers are pointing out that some popular cereals, including Lucky Charms and Cap'n Crunch, meet the federal nutritional guidelines Disney says it will be using to determine which ads are allowed. Other critics of the Disney ban say it doesn't get at the real problem: Today's kids don't get enough exercise.

Themba says Michelle Obama's efforts are laudable, but it's time for policy-makers and government to play a stronger role in children's nutritional issues. The Disney junk-food ban underscores the enormous power of media, she adds.

"The most important thing about this is that Disney is admitting what communities have known forever: Junk food marketing is bad for kids. It's unhealthy, and companies should stop it."

While Michelle Obama is already one of the most successful First Ladies in using the White House "bully pulpit" to effect social change, Themba says, she could use help.

"Of course, she can't do it alone. Government and policymakers have to step up and play the role that they need to play to protect our kids."

Other broadcasters, including the Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, restrict the marketing use of their characters to foods that meet specific nutritional guidelines. In Nickelodeon's case, they use standards developed by the food industry. Disney says its standards will follow federal recommendations.

A sampling of opinions about the Disney action is available at Mother Nature Network, http://bit.ly/KLY73n and from Forbes magazine, http://onforb.es/LHD9yr.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY