Disney joins kid obesity battle

Disney joins kid obesity battle

June 9th, 2012 in Opinion Times

Earlier this week, the Walt Disney Co. took a step that should help improve the eating habits of many of the nation's children. It announced that it will ban ads for junk foods on its TV channels, radio stations and websites starting in 2015. The nation's youngsters -- heavier and more prone to life-threatening or lifelong illnesses than their peers in earlier generations -- should benefit greatly from the decision.

So should their families and the nation. If kids eat healthier, they and the rest of their family should become less obese and more healthy over time. A healthier population eventually will become less of a drain on the nation's healthcare system.

There have been tentative efforts from other entertainment providers to control advertising content on popular shows like Saturday morning cartoons, but none have been as far ranging as Disney's. Indeed, Michelle Obama, who leads a national campaign to slow or halt childhood obesity, called Disney's decision a "game changer." She's right.

The entertainment giant's new rules are based on federal guidelines developed by health care professionals. They are worth noting:

• Breakfast cereal (1 ounce by weight): 130 calories, 10 grams of sugar, 200 milligrams of sodium.

• Snacks (1 ounce or 30 grams): 150 calories, 6.25 grams of sugar per 100 calories, 220 milligrams of sodium.

• Juices (8 ounces): 140 calories, no added sugar, no added sodium.

• Yogurt (4 ounces): 120 calories, 15 grams of sugar (sodium limit not applicable).

• Complete meal: 600 calories, 2.5 grams of sugar per 100 calories, 740 milligrams of sodium.

Disney also said it would roll out a series of public service announcements to promote exercise and healthy eating by kids. That, too, should prove beneficial.

Given its reach across a variety of media platforms, Disney's influence over nutrition, especially among kids, is significant. Anyone who doubts that has not been to the grocery store with a kid, who clearly makes food choices based on what they see on TV. That should change as Disney's new rules take effect.

Disney's decision to halt ads for foods high in sugar, fats, sodium and calories but low in nutritional value won't end the growing problem of obesity and related illnesses among children, but it is a step in the right direction. Other media companies should follow suit and food companies and fast-food outlets should match products to the new guidelines. Kids and the overall population will be a lot healthier if they do.