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Will Disney's Junk-Food Ad Ban Help Curb Child Obesity?

June 11, 2012

SEATTLE - The announcement by the Walt Disney Co. that it would ban junk food advertising on its children's programs and networks is being called a publicity stunt by some and a critical step in the battle against obesity by others, including First Lady Michelle Obama. In Washington State, where almost 30 percent of children are overweight or obese, can 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.

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."

She thinks government should play a stronger role in children's nutritional issues.

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 can be found online at the Mother Nature Network and Forbes magazine.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA