Posted by: ezzakazhall | June 27, 2012

Taking the Mickey out of junk food- and fat kids?

“No dessert for me, Minnie! I’m watching my waistline!”

It appears that our beloved Disney has jumped aboard the anti-obesity train.

Following on from NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s large soda clampdown, the Walt Disney Company has also joined the fight against childhood obesity, announcing that all food products advertised on its children’s TV channels, radio stations and websites must comply with strict new standards. Under its new rules, products such as candy, sugary cereals, fast food and sodas will no longer be considered “appropriate advertising material”. Apparently, research from the American Psychological Association and others has shown that the increased advertising of non-nutritious food can be linked with increasing rates of childhood obesity.

Disney also plans to sponsor “fun public service announcements” promoting healthy food options and exercise to children, reduce the amount of sodium in the foods served at its theme parks, and place a “Mickey Check” label (the kid-friendly version of the Heart Tick) on Disney-licensed foods with a low calorie-count.  This NY Times article from 5 June tells us more.

By the looks of things, Disney’s ban on junk food advertising (among other things) has garnered more than a few murmurs of encouragement. As we can see from the NY times piece, nutrition and paediatric health experts from various organisations (including Yale University) are already giving Disney an approving nod. It would also appear the American public are getting on board. Both the San Francisco Chronicle and Virtual Strategy Magazine (why an IT publication is running an obesity-related article I’m not entirely sure…) ran a story showcasing the results of an online survey on junk food, obesity and Disney. 54% of survey company Tellwut‘s respondents supported the Disney ban, with 19% stating they thought the best way to combat obesity was by disallowing advertising of certain foods.

(Then again…I’m not sure how seriously I’m inclined to take research statistics from a company who has also put such gems as “Which are the worst fashion faux pas?” and “Have you ever been sprayed by a skunk?” before its participants. But, that’s just me.)

My thoughts? In theory, I’m all for Disney promoting healthy and delicious food choices to its scores of young viewers. No-one is disputing the size and influence of the Disney brand- so, if it plays its cards right, it could well stand to make a difference.

Unfortunately, one of its earlier efforts against childhood obesity wasn’t so endearing – the launch of its “Habit Heroes” ride (described in more detail on the Fat Acceptance blog I frequent), an interactive exhibit where children follow around a pair of “heroes” fighting off bad habits, including overeating, snacking on “too much fatty, processed food” and inactivity. Which might have been fine- excepting that the “villains” representing these “bad” habits were fat. Thus showing young people that overweight people, including overweight children one would assume, are an enemy to be defeated.

The ride resulted in widespread (pardon the pun) criticism and a media backlash (this Huffington Post piece, for example, provides some good coverage). Disney closed the ride “for re-tooling” in late February this year. To my knowledge, it has not re-opened.

Despite Disney obviously having a change of heart on the fat shaming end, I was initially skeptical of its new “public service announcements” and promotions  of good clean living mentioned above. I wondered if, this time, Disney would actually focus on encouraging healthy behaviours in these promotions. Or would they continue to stigmatise obese children whose habits were not so exemplary?

Time will tell, and this is an issue I plan to keep an eye on. My hope is that Disney, a brand trusted and loved families worldwide, will have learned its lesson – Promoting a healthful way of life= Good Idea.  Demonising larger people under the guise of teaching children “healthy habits”= Bad Idea.



  1. Where’s the now banished Wonders of Life pavilion when we needed it? What was all the energy we wished we have to nurture it to a new generation?

    In case you want to know more:

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