Disney Changes Food Marketing Approach

Published February 1, 2007

Don’t look for figurines from some of the latest animated kids’ movies in a high-fat fast-food boxed meal in the near future.

In mid-October, the Walt Disney Company instituted a new policy of licensing its name and characters to promote to children only those foods that meet certain nutritional guidelines, including:

  • a cap on calories that results in appropriate kid-sized portions;
  • total fat not exceeding 30 percent of calories for main and side dishes and 35 percent for snacks;
  • saturated fat not exceeding 10 percent of calories for main dishes, side dishes, and snacks;
  • added sugar not exceeding 10 percent of calories for main dishes and side dishes and 25 percent of calories for snacks; and
  • an overall limit–15 percent by 2010–on the number of “indulgence” items, such as seasonal candy, in its licensed portfolio. In addition, most special-occasion sweets will be made available in single-serving packets.

Future Changes

The company also announced changes in the food served at its theme parks and resorts to adhere to the guidelines, to be completed by the end of 2007.

Disney also unveiled a company-wide plan to ban trans fats from the foods served at its parks by the end of 2007, and from its licensed and promotional products by the end of 2008.

The guidelines for licensed foods and promotions aimed at children will govern Disney’s business partnerships and activities nationwide and will be adopted internationally over the next several years, the company said.

Parental Choice

Alex Avery, director of research at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Global Food Issues, said that as far as the trans-fat “jihad” is concerned, Disney is “just going with the hurricane-force winds on this issue.” But the other guidelines appeared fairly sensible, he said.

“They’ve instituted a ‘complete meal’ main and side dish calorie limit of 360-560 calories, and seemingly sensible limits on fat and sugar content excluding ‘special occasion sweets’ such as candy and cake,” Avery said.

“They’ve also gone a step further than McDonald’s in making milk or juice and carrots the default sides for kids’ meals, rather than French fries and soda–but those will still be available freely to those parents who allow their children to eat them,” Avery continued.

According to Avery, a public relations professional at Disney reported parents in the company’s in-park trial chose milk and carrots over soda and fries 75 to 90 percent of the time.

Nutrition Experts

Disney’s guidelines are based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, published every five years by the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture, and were developed in cooperation with child health and wellness experts, including James Hill, Ph.D., director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver.

“I think that there is a trend among companies that cater to children and families to be more conscious about the nutritional value of their products, and I think it is very welcome,” Hill said. “These companies now understand that childhood obesity and poor nutrition are a problem, and that they can be a part of the solution.

“The exciting thing is that when a company like Disney gets behind better nutrition for kids, they can do it in such a fun way that we can get kids excited about eating healthier,” Hill noted.

Charlotte LoBuono ([email protected]) is a freelance health and medical writer in Hoboken, New Jersey.