It’s a pretty big day in the fight against childhood obesity. Nutrition and health advocates have a surprising new partner in the fight against advertising junk food to kids. Today, Disney is announcing a nutrition initiative that will impose strict guidelines on the products that are advertised on their TV shows, radio and in amusement parks.
The new regulations, which fall closely in line with recommendations made by federal regulators last year, will no doubt damage Disney’s relationship with advertisers like Capri Sun, Kraft Lunchables and plenty of other sugared cereal, candy and fast food chains. But the new rules won’t necessarily hurt the entertainment giant. By advertising only healthy choices to young kids, Disney gains the trust and appreciation of parents everywhere, who are seriously concerned with childhood obesity and raising healthy kids.
Personally, I couldn’t agree more. I’ve had to explain to my four-year-old numerous times that just because she saw it on TV, that doesn’t make Krave (a new chocolatey cereal) an appropriate breakfast for her. Every time we pass the box in the grocery store, my little girl is begging to try it. Then I spend the next five aisles talking to her about the different types of energy you get from food and why we don’t want to start out day with sugar-energy that won’t help her be strong all day long. (It may seem like an odd concept to explain to a pre-schooler, but my daughter wants to be a superhero; staying strong is a good selling point for her.) So being able to turn on a Disney cartoon and know that my little girl won’t bug me about McDonald’s or Coco Puffs for the next week is pretty appealing.
Almost better than the health initiative itself might be the explanation for the plan given by Disney’s Chief Executive Officer Robert Iger. Health initiatives have become a popular business trope (a certain fashion magazine empire comes to mind). But Iger stands apart from the rest; he’s not in it for public gratitude and praise of his company’s public service. Iger put it bluntly: “This is not altruistic. This is about smart business.” As my own opinion as a mother goes to show, this is a business decision that will earn Disney a more dedicated customer base. Given that Disney has been subtly finding ways to market to moms from the minute they give birth, their health initiative is really just another logical step in the same business direction.
And when you compare Iger’s acknowledgement of the business benefits to the other health initiatives getting buzz, it’s easy to see how this could be the most influential, by a long shot. Vogue‘s new model guidelines are too vague to be easily tracked. And they don’t seem to have changed much in terms of actual content. Mayor Bloomberg‘s new soda restriction is probably an intelligent step, but it still focuses on a single troublesome product and leaves the city government wide open for charges of hypocrisy and over-reach. Disney, on the other hand, put out nutritional guidelines for everyone to see. They have easily defined rules. And their approach of regulating advertisers has a proven track record of effectiveness. In 2006, Disney stopped letting its characters appear in ads for foods with high fat or sugar contents. Bye-bye Mickey Mouse Pop-Tarts! And other children’s media companies all followed suit.
Disney’s new initiative probably isn’t perfect, but it’s a huge step towards limiting the junk food advertisements that kids are exposed to. More than that, it’s refreshing to hear a business admit that this is a smart financial decision for them. By focusing on the actual bottom-line, Disney might inspire other companies to take similar steps. It’s time that companies realize that healthy initiatives aren’t just a good thing, they’re a profitable thing. It looks like Disney is stepping up to lead the way.