Disney does diet

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Beyond just serving as a source of family-friendly entertainment, Mickey Mouse will now be providing kids and parents with information on health and nutrition. Walt Disney Co. announced yesterday that its TV, radio, and website networks will not accept advertisements for foods that do not meet the specific nutritional criteria laid out in the company s new set of guidelines.

First Lady Michelle Obama, founder of the Let s Move campaign to prevent childhood obesity, was present at the Disney press conference and lauded the company s latest efforts, calling the plan a game changer. She added: 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.

Ads aimed at children younger than 12 promoting foods that don t meet specific Disney restrictions on the amount of calories, added sugar, sodium, and fats they contain will not be allowed to air on any Disney channels, radio stations, websites and Saturday morning cartoons on other stations that the company owns.

In addition to limiting ads, Disney also introduced the Mickey Check icon, which will appear on food and menu items sold in stores, online, and in its U.S. theme parks. The new icon will indicate to consumers that the products bearing the Mickey logo meet the kid-healthy nutritional guidelines set by Disney and congruent with the federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

For instance, in order to receive a Mickey Check seal of approval, a complete meal cannot contain more than 600 calories, while other products, such as breakfast cereals, may not exceed 10 grams of sugar per every one-ounce serving.

But in addition to sugar and calorie restrictions, all meals and snacks are also subject to sodium limitations, which left ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross a bit puzzled. Why is sodium even part of this conversation? he wonders. Limiting the salt intake of young kids will have absolutely no beneficial impact on their health and may, in fact, lead to certain adverse consequences.

And while ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava sides with Dr. Ross on the sodium issue, she is pleased with the new guidelines overall. Children under the age of 8 are unable to distinguish between commercials and public service announcements, which means they can be heavily influenced by the information presented in food ads. Given that, the less advertising they re exposed to, the better off they are.

Meanwhile, ACSH s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan is not so sure that the Mickey Check criteria, especially as they relate to limiting sugar content, will have much of an impact. Even if they re offered low-sugar cereals, kids can still reach for the sugar bowl and pile on as much of the sweetener as they please, she says. What s more, many breakfast cereals that flunk the new guidelines are replete with healthful nutrients and fortified with vitamins that kids may not be getting elsewhere. Ultimately," she notes, "the marketplace will decide the outcome: If products that start adhering to these nutritional guidelines don t sell, they will eventually revert to their original formulations.