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Disney Gets Tough on Child Junk Food Ads

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Falling in line with the Obama and Bloomberg administrations' respective pushes to curb obesity, the Walt Disney Co. (DIS) announced Tuesday that it would use its corporate muscle to keep fat-making products aimed at children off its radio, TV, and Web media.

Specifically, Disney has a set of nutritional guidelines that advertisers must meet if they want to lure kids into consuming their products via any child-centric Disney outlet, the New York Times reports.

Disney chairman Robert Iger told the paper that “companies in a position to help with solutions to childhood obesity should do just that,” adding that the step is about "smart business." Disney executives see nutritious food -- or at least food not laden with sugar and saturated fat -- as a consumer trend on the upswing.

This push isn't brand new for Disney. In 2006, the company removed Mickey Mouse from Pop-Tarts (K) boxes and Toy Story characters from McDonald's (MCD) Happy Meals. The following year, Pepsi (PEP) and Pop-Tarts maker Kellogg also agreed to stop pushing junk food on prepubescents.

Instead, the Mouse will now be used as a kind of Good Housekeeping seal of approval. Disney plans to add the "Mickey Check" -- mouse ears and a check mark, along with the words "Good For You, Fun Too!" -- to food products the company licenses that are sufficiently low in calories, saturated fat, salt, and sugar to be deemed healthy.

Or healthy-ish, at least. Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told the New York Times that the guidelines were a decent start but could still use some work. “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,” she said.

Disney isn't counting out fruit entirely, though. Over the past six years, people have bought some 2 billion fruit and veggie servings licensed by Disney, the company noted in the article. Meanwhile, advertisers like Kraft (KFT), whose sodium-cured Lunchables and sugary Capri Sun no longer make the cut for advertising to the under-12 set on Disney properties, will need to mull their next move. Change product formulations? Or start marketing exclusively to people over 12?

Although Disney declined to mention how many advertising dollars it might lose from the Michelle Obama-backed initiative, it expects to make up the shortfall in goodwill branding and in sales of less non-nutritious fare, the New York Times said. TV ads devoted to children under 12 bring in some $950 million annually.

“We need to motivate consumers to make changes, and Disney, because of its sheer size and brand power, can do that better than anybody,” said Keith T. Ayoob, associate clinical professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and one of the health experts who helped Disney fashion its guidelines.
POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.