Disney Vows to End Junk-Food Ads on Kids Shows by 2015

First lady Michelle Obama dances with Perry the Platypus from Disney's Phineas and Ferb. (Photo: Carolyn Kaste …In an effort to combat the childhood obesity epidemic in the United States, entertainment giant Walt Disney Co. announced Tuesday that it will stop accepting some junk-food advertisements on their children's TV programs, websites, and radio shows, Reuters reported.

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Under their new guidelines, ads for items like Capri Sun, Kraft Lunchables, candies, sodas, and sugary cereals would no longer be aired during programs aimed at kids younger than 12 on Disney XD, Disney Junior, Radio Disney, Disney.com, and during ABC stations' stretches of Saturday-morning cartoons. (The Disney Channel currently accepts promotions and sponsorships rather than traditional advertisements.) Only ads for foods that meet certain "minimum nutrition standards" will be accepted, so ads for healthier versions of those and other foods may still be shown; because of long-term contracts with Disney's advertisers, the changes won't take effect until 2015.

Disney Chairman and CEO Bob Iger made the announcement in Washington, D.C. with First Lady Michelle Obama, who has made combating childhood obesity her main mission, urging schools to offer more nutritious lunches and encouraging children to exercise with her "Let's Move!" campaign.

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"This new initiative is truly a game changer for the health of our children," the first lady said. "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?'"

Disney's nutrition decision doesn't end with advertisements. On Tuesday, the company also promised to reduce the amount of sodium in kids' meals served at their theme parks by 25 percent, and to create a flight of public service announcements promoting exercise and healthy eating.

Disney will also introduce "Mickey Check," a special mouse-eared logo and slogan ("Good For You -- Fun Too!") that grocery stores can use to indicate that Disney-licensed products meet certain guidelines for calories, fat, sodium, and sugar content. "Mickey Check" will also appear on qualified recipes on Disney.com and Family.com, and on menus and products at Disney theme parks, by the end of this year. In 2006, the company voluntarily decided not to allow Disney characters -- including the ubiquitous Mickey Mouse -- to appear on certain types of foods and snacks; now, those familiar cartoon faces are associated with fruits and vegetables instead of Pop Tarts and fast food meals.

"We're proud of the impact we've had over the last six years," Iger said. "We've taken steps across our company to support better choices for families, and now we're taking the next important step forward by setting new food advertising standards for kids. The emotional connection kids have to our characters and stories gives us a unique opportunity to continue to inspire and encourage them to lead healthier lives."

Disney's new food standards, developed with input from child health and wellness experts, are based on the federal government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Federal Trade Commission's proposed guidelines for food marketing to children, The New York Times reported. Their announcement comes just after New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's decision to ban large servings of sodas and other sugary drinks served in most restaurants, delis, theaters, and food cards in the city. The New York ban would affect servings larger than 16 ounces -- which, for the record, is the same size as a "small" soda at McDonald's and less than half the size of a typical 40-ounce Super Big Gulp at 7-Eleven stores.

While solving the childhood obesity problem is paramount, Iger is candid about the fact that Disney's move isn't just about kids and nutrition.

"This is not altruistic," he told the New York Times. "This is about smart business."

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