Disney plans to advertise “healthier option” foods to children

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 7th June 2012

The Walt Disney Company in the United States this week announced a new set of guidelines for food advertising on its TV channels, radio stations and websites aimed at children.

The new guidelines form part of its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policies and will come into effect in 2015. The announcement said that existing contractual commitments were the reason for a delay in implementation until 2015.

Disney says its CSR policy is to be aligned with U.S. federal standards promoting the consumption of fruits and vegetables and the reduction of sodium, sugar and saturated fat intake, and will make Disney “the first major media company in the U.S. to restrict advertising of less healthy foods for children”.

Defining “healthy option”

Anti-obesity groups have welcomed the move, but some have cautioned that the effectiveness of the ban will rely on how Disney defines the unhealthy foods. Attempts by the food industry to regulate advertising aimed at children have been criticised for being too generous.

Others are concerned that the policy will have a counter-productive effect by still promoting brands that sell less-healthy foods and have worries that the advertising will generate more sales for the latter.

Disney’s announcement indicated that in assessing the nutritional value of products of companies who are potential advertisers, Disney will be examining the broad offerings of the companies. Even if a company’s child-targeted product is healthy, the advertiser will be required to display a broad range of healthy options.

Disney defines a “healthy option” as a complete meal containing no more than 600 calories and a side dish containing no more than 200 calories. The guidelines state maximum weight, calorie, sugar and sodium limits per serving. For example:

–       Breakfast cereal will have to be 1oz and contain no more than 130 calories, 10g of sugar, and 200mg of sodium.

–       Snacks must also be 1oz, and must contain no more than 150 calories, 6.25g of sugar per 100 calories, and 220mg of sodium.

–       Juices must be 8oz, contain no more than 140 calories, and have no added sugar or sodium.

–       Yogurt must be 4oz, contain 120 calories and no more than 15g of sugar (sodium non-applicable).

Concerns from “Healthy option” research

In collaborative research done by marketing and psychology academics at the City University of New York, Loyola University Maryland and Duke University, in 2009, researchers found that the presence of a “healthy food option” on a menu had unexpected effects on consumer behaviours, including:

–       Driving attention to the least healthy option in the choice set; and

–       Providing individuals with the license to indulge in tempting food options.

While Disney’s guidelines require the advertiser to offer a “healthy choice” product that would meet certain nutritional minimums, the brands being advertised are likely to sell much higher volumes of the less healthy food offerings. The 2009 study suggested the presence of both a “healthy option” and a less healthy option leads to consumers choosing the more tempting but less healthy option without the guilt or self-control normally present.

Advertising standards in Australia

In Australia, the Children’s Television Standards 2009 (CTS) was introduced by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to restrict the ways in which companies can televise food advertisements specifically targeting children. Some of the major Australian fast-food groups have been promoting a Quick Service food industry-based code of practice known as the Responsible Advertising to Children Initiative. The Australian Food and Grocery Council is promoting its own Responsible Childrens Marketing Initiative for manufacturers selling foods in Australia.