Emma Waverman writes about the chaos of modern family life in the kitchen and out of it. She has a weekly food column on CBC Radio One, Here & Now. She is the co-author of the family cookbook Whining and Dining: Mealtime Survival for Picky Eaters and Families Who Love Them and is hoping to one day finish her certification as a parenting coach. She lives with her three kids, ranging from tween to university student, and husband in Toronto. Emma has written for a variety of national lifestyle magazines and newspapers. When she's is not making typos, telling you what she thinks, and thinking about dinner, you can find her on Twitter at @emmawaverman and Instagram. You can contact Emma at embracingchaos@hotmail.ca.

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Disney Bans Junk Food Marketing on Kids' TV

Disney announced that they will be banning junk food commercials on their stations on shows that are aimed at children. Which means that food advertised promoted on stations such as DisneyXD and Playhouse Disney, as well as Saturday morning cartoons on ABC will have to comply with Disney's nurtitional standards.

Is this a big deal?

It kind of is. Federal bodies in the U.S. and Canada have not strictly regulated junk food promotion to kids, which has allowed marketing to proliferate. Disney is the first major communications company to step up and say we have a role to play when it comes to our kids' health.

The new standards means that some of the products currently advertised or promoted on the Disney channels do not meet the new criteria. Which means that Disney is either willing to lose advertising dollars or is big enough to pressure companies such as Kraft and Capri Sun to rejig their formulas to meet healthier standards.  

The new standards will apply to any programming aimed at kids under the age of 12, but will not take into effect until 2015 because of previously signed advertising commitments. 

As part of the healthier initiatives, Disney will continue to find ways to sell healthier food at their theme parks and have introduced at Mickey Check symbol for packaged foods that will show the product is within their nutritional standards. (If you have read Michael Pollan's Food Rules, you know that any kind of health check symbol probably means that it's food you want to avoid.)

This is a continuation of Disney's attempts to recognize that it can impact kids' physical health. Disney pulled out of tie-ins with McDonalds a few years ago, and has been working towards healthier food at their theme parks.

Even First Lady Michelle Obama weighed in saying:

This new initiative is truly a game-changer for the health of our children...So, for years, people told us that no matter what we did to get our kids to eat well and exercise, we would never solve our childhood obesity crisis until companies changed the way that they sell food to our children. We all know the conventional wisdom about that. ... Today, Disney has turned that conventional wisdom on its head."

Even critics are saying that the move is "important" though they would like to see tighter restrictions, as the standards really only deal with the worst junk food offenders. “This limits the marketing of the worst junk foods, but it won’t mean you’re only going to see ads for apples, bananas and oranges, either," said Margo G. Wootan, a nutrition expert.

Parents are obviously the gatekeepers when it comes to the kinds of foods their kids eat. But studies have shown that marketing makes a difference to how much kids' consume and their brand recognition. The marketing sets up expectations for the kids about what they want to eat, and normalizes food that should be firmly in the "treat" category.

I can't be the only parent who has given in on the occasional box of sugary cereal after a stressful trip to the grocery store. In our house, those kinds of products are considered treats and not breakfast, but I still never feel good about owning them.

Now that one huge corporation has sounded the alarm bell, we will see if others follow suit, or if they will scoop up the junk food marketers who looking for somewhere safe to land.

It's a small but important step by a huge corporation who has a major impact on our kids, whether we like it or not. I think it is a good thing. It is, at the very least, a recognition that the marketers and processed food developers have a role to play in the fight for our kids' health. I'm not sure how much of an impact it will make in ending child obesity, but every little bit helps.

Do you think Disney's ban on junk food will make a difference?

Want more chaos? Last year, I asked if you announced that you and your partner need some *cough, cough* private time, like Brad and Angelina do.

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Reader Comments (7)

Great post. I applaud what Disney is doing but I do think that it's just the tip of a massive iceberg. There are plenty of other ways that my kids can learn about junk food and I can't see other networks jumping on this particular bandwagon. I also cringe a bit at what their criteria for banning certain advertising may be and I know that there will be a misperception that Disney approved means 'healthy.' Guess we'll have to wait and see.
June 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCarolyn
I was raised by a Mother who had absolutely no concept of nutrition, and who came from a generation where a burger, fries and shake was a standard meal. I watched cartoons, like all kids, and saw the complete trash advertised passing as "food" - and because it was advertised on the cartoons, my Mother used to offer to buy it as a "treat"! Fortunately, I was able to read labels for myself and make my own mind up - no lucky charms for me thanks... I'd rather just pour the sugar and food colouring into my mouth and chew... not... I was a nutritionally saavy kid, many kids are not so fortunate. When parents and kids are both ignorant of what constitutes food, that is where we have a problem. If kids don't see it, they aren't likely to demand it, and parents aren't likely to offer it. Although I typically dislike "big brother" involvement in my descision-making process, I think its time we said "unless food meets a certain nutritional standard, it shouldn't be advertised at ALL - not to kids, not to anyone". Don't ban it's sale, or it's consumption. It isn't about removing choice - it's about not being able to lie about it's value as a food source - if it can't make a claim to be adding nutritionally, it shouldn't be able to make any statement at all... Then we'd know when we walked around our supermarkets what which items we can thankfully ignore!

June 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTD
I think limiting some is always better than limiting none. Maybe Nutella will still be advertised, but at least the chocolate bars won't be or something like that. It's a step in the right direction, but I think it could also lead to more confusion about what's actually healthy. Just because General Mills makes all there cereal with "whole grains" doesn't mean Trix is a healthy breakfast choice. Educating the public about how to read food labels is still the best way to fight obesity of all ages.
June 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChelsea Ribbon
I think disney should be looking at themselves. you walk into any disney park and you have to hunt for something healthy, but every 20 feet you can get junk food and sodas. i guess churro's and coke are healthy.
June 6, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterlocnar77
We go to Disneyworld every year and I can tell you that while the chicken nuggets and fries are still available at every location, there is also a lot more in healthy choices too. Most carts and quick service locations offer whole fresh fruit and salads. Kids meals as a standard come with carrots and grapes (you can swap out for fries, but you have to ask for it). Disney also does not ban bringing in your own food as many theme and amusement parks do.Disney is hardly a haven for healthy eating (have you ever tried the cupcakes there?! To die for!), but the choice is there for you if you want to make it.
June 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDeb
I think the bigger problem isn't the advertizing of junk or healthy foods, it's the way companies can call something "all natural" or "low fat" and trick people into thinking it's healthy. Stay away from Country Naturals or Maple Leaf All Naturals. They both are made by the same company and contain Nitrates. They get away with saying all natural because the nitrates are in cultured celery extract and they don't have to list secondary ingredients. Also as Nitrates are formed naturally in Celery they can claim all natural. Low fat doesn't mean it's low fat either. It just means it is lower fat than the regular version made by the same company. Health Check lables are a joke too. Boston Pizza and the Heart and Stroke Foundation got into trouble a few years back for them. See in order to get a healthy Check from the Heart and Stroke companies must pay the Heart and Stroke. The items are evaluated and if they pass they get to use the check. The problem is there are no actual standards and no one checks up to make sure the item hasn't changed. Ban all the ads you want but untill the language gets clarified and laws are passed to prevent these things we will still end up eating garbage.
June 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLiz
Take a pill, life is too short as it is. This is bad for us, that is bad. I could be on a vegan diet, but I DON'T WANT TO! Live, love laugh, don't sweat the small stuff.
June 8, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterbriank99@excite.com

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