Remember Disney Happy Meals? We've come a long way since the last trans-fat-covered action figure was sold in 2006: Disney announced today that it will no longer hawk junk food to kids, making it the first major media company to clean up its food advertising act.
The changes won't take place until 2015 — apparently it takes a while to wean yourself off additives — but, by then, all food and beverage products associated with Disney Channel, Disney XD, Disney Junior, Radio Disney, Disney.com and ABC Saturday morning programming will have to be vetted.
So what types of snacks will kids no longer beg their parents to purchase? Spokespeople said prepackaged lunches, fruit drinks, candy and snack cakes are some examples of foods that won't make the "Mickey Check," a new symbol devised specifically for the new plan. (Affiliated ride coming soon at amusement parks!) Breakfast cereals will have to contain fewer than 10 grams of sugar in a serving — which is still pretty cavity-inducing, one nutrition expert pointed out, since that's the amount of sugar in three Chips Ahoy cookies. (Oh man, now I'm thinking about Cookie Crisp, which apparently still exists — "Whole Grain Guaranteed!")
It's pretty amazing that the company has gone from partnering with Ronald McDonald to Michelle Obama in less than two decades. The first lady attended the announcement today in D.C. and said in a statement, "This new initiative is truly a game changer for the health of our children. … With this new initiative, Disney is doing what no major media company has ever done before in the U.S.- 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?'
But is it good for Disney? Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, told USA Today that Disney is making this move "at perhaps some peril to their revenues, so that's all the more reason why we should commend them." Is the move really so risky? It's doubtful kids will notice that they're not seeing ads for Lunchables anymore; it's not like elementary schoolers are going to organize a Saturday morning cartoon boycott anytime soon. (Although that would make for a really cute viral YouTube video.) And surely the initiative will pressure major food companies to create healthier kid-friendly snacks, something they're increasingly being forced to consider. Since a third of children and adolescents are overweight or obese, this seems like great news all around.
Plus, it's not like the company is going to start promoting the raw food diet — the company seems to be striving for "reasonable" instead of totally health-committed. "There are still going to be SpaghettiOs and things like that in the mix," said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. I'd prefer the cookie cereal.