Disney partners with Michelle Obama in commitment to eliminate junk food ads

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Obama and Walt Disney Company Chairman and CEO Robert A. Iger announced what the first lady called “a game changer” for children’s health at the Newseum in Washington on Tuesday morning.

By 2015, all food and beverage items promoted by Disney on its multiple platforms or sold in its theme parks will be evaluated according to self-imposed nutrition guidelines aligned to federal standards. The menu items Disney sells in its theme parks that will be affected by the change are marketed primarily to families with young children and many are branded with popular Disney characters, such as Mickey Mouse.

At the public event, Michelle Obama said she is “thrilled” that even Mickey Mouse is stepping forward to “help parents make healthier choices for their kids.” She urged parents to take notice of the move by Disney and support the company for making such a “huge” change in the face of "cynics" who cling to their bottom line over the health of kids.

“Just a few years ago if you had told me or any other mom or dad in America that our kids wouldn’t see a single ad for junk food while they watched their favorite cartoons on a major TV network, we wouldn’t have believed you because parents know better than anyone else just how effective and pervasive those advertisements have become,” she said. “I'm thrilled that over the next couple of years, when our kids tune into their favorite shows on Disney channels or they log onto the Disney website, they will no longer be bombarded with unhealthy messages during those commercial breaks. Instead, they will see ads for foods that we might actually want them to eat, ads that can reinforce healthy habits and teach kids very important lessons.”

By the end of the year, more nutritious Disney-licensed food will also be branded with the “Mouse Check,” calling attention to the raised standards, which include reduced sodium and sugar content.

“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,” Iger explained in a statement.

“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,” Obama said. “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?’”

The first lady’s Let’s Move! anti-obesity initiative, which she launched two years ago, encourages private companies along with public schools and communities to implement healthier standards in menu choices and exercise opportunities.

Disney, the world’s largest entertainment company, began working with Obama's initiative in 2010 with "The Magic of Healthy Living Campaign," a series of public service announcements featuring Disney child stars that ran on Disney-owned TV channels.

Public health advocates praised Tuesday's announcement.

"This puts Disney ahead of the pack of media outlets and should be a wake-up call to Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network to do the same," said Margo G. Wootan, nutrition policy director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

"As a nation, all companies should be working toward promoting only healthy food through all forms of child-directed media."

—Elise Viebeck contributed.

This post was updated at 12:30 p.m.