Obesity now affects 17 percent of all children and adolescents in the United States, triple the rate from one generation ago, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
So the announcement by Walt Disney Co last week that it is banning junk food advertising on its television and radio programs for kids is a welcome move.
Disneyâ€™s new standards will apply to all food and beverage products advertised, sponsored, or promoted on Disney Channel, Disney XD, Disney Junior, Radio Disney and Disney-owned online destinations targeting families with younger children.
The nutrition guidelines are aligned to federal standards, promote fruit and vegetable consumption and call for limiting calories and reducing saturated fat, sodium, and sugar.
Though the rules wonâ€™t take effect until 2015, as a parent you have to applaud this effort.
First Lady Michelle Obama described the new initiative as a â€œgame changerâ€ for the health of our children, saying:
This is a major American company â€“ a global brand â€“ that is literally changing the way it does business so that our kids can lead healthier lives. With this new initiative, Disney is doing what no major media company has ever done before in the U.S. â€“ and what I hope every company will do going forward. When it comes to the ads they show and the food they sell, they are asking themselves one simple question: â€œIs this good for our kids?â€
A recent report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) noted that 87 percent of food and beverage commercials seen by children ages 6-11 on TV advertise foods high in saturated fat, sugar, or sodium. Meanwhile, older children and adolescents consume more than 7.5 hours of media each day.
In an earlier report Obesity, Liability and Insurance the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) flagged the potential liability risk facing food manufacturers, advertising agencies and ingredient manufacturers to name a few from obesity-related tort actions.
We note that Ferrero, the manufacturers of Nutella recently agreed to pay $3 million to settle a class action lawsuit over misleading advertising that claimed the chocolate-hazelnut spread was healthy.
And orange juice maker Tropicana is facing lawsuits over labeling its juice as â€œall naturalâ€ amid allegations that the company adds chemically engineered flavoring to its product.
Since the causes of obesity and overweight are varied and complex, it would be naÃ¯ve to think that one companyâ€™s actions could solve the obesity epidemic.
However, given that media is embedded in our culture and the most frequently marketed foods and beverages are higher in added fats and sugars, any move to make the ads our children see more nutritious at the least will have a positive influence.
The IOM report put the annual cost of obesity-related illness in the U.S. at $190.2 billion. By comparison, the potential cost to Disney is a mere fraction of this amount.