Correction to This Article
An Oct. 17 Business article incorrectly said that Walt Disney Co. is undertaking an initiative to make sure that 60 percent of food products whose marketing uses its characters meet certain nutritional requirements. Sixty percent already meet those guidelines.

Disney to Cut Back on Junk-Food Marketing

By Annys Shin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 17, 2006

These days, the first stop a blockbuster movie makes after the box office is a supermarket shelf. Johnny Depp's mug peers out from a "Pirates of the Caribbean" cereal box. In the next aisle, the Incredibles hawk Incrediberry Blast Pop Tarts. But they may not be there next year.

The licensing rights for "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "The Incredibles" belong to the Walt Disney Co., which said yesterday that it plans to change its policy and use its characters to market foods to children only for products that meet certain nutritional guidelines.

In doing so, Disney joins food and beverage makers in addressing concerns that they contribute to higher rates of childhood obesity by encouraging children to eat unhealthful foods. Last year, Kraft Foods Inc. said it would stop advertising less-nutritious products on television, radio and in magazines aimed at kids under 12. Earlier this month, Kraft joined several snack food makers in an effort to sell more healthful treats in schools.

"These are the first steps in an initiative that will evolve over time," Disney president and chief executive Robert A. Iger said in a written statement.

At least one other media conglomerate has made similar efforts. Nickelodeon Networks, part of Viacom Inc., licenses characters to sell less-nutritious items such as ice cream and cookies. About a year ago, it began partnering with produce companies, putting SpongeBob SquarePants on spinach packages and Dora the Explorer on bags of organic soybeans, spokesman Dan Martinsen said.

Under the new guidelines, Disney characters will be used to market foods only in which fat does not exceed 30 percent of the calories in main dishes; saturated fat does not exceed 10 percent of calories; and added sugar does not exceed 10 percent of calories for main and side dishes, and 25 percent for snacks.

The guidelines will apply to 60 percent of Disney-licensed products, said finance chief Thomas O. Staggs. The company made an exception for special-occasion sweets, such as birthday cakes and seasonal candy, but plans to eliminate trans fats from such products and to limit the number of indulgence items to 15 percent of its licensed products by 2010.

The guidelines were developed with the help of child-health experts James O. Hill, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado; and Keith Thomas Ayoob, associate professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Starting this month, Disney is also changing children's meals at its theme parks by including water or low-fat, 100 percent fruit juice with side dishes such as applesauce or carrots in place of soft drinks and french fries. Parents who want soda or fries will have to request them.

Disney test-marketed 20,000 of the more healthful meals and found that as many as 90 percent of parents stuck with the more nutritious option, Staggs said.

Disney also plans to eliminate trans fats from all food served at its parks by 2007, including food served by outside chains, such as McDonald's. Trans fats would also be removed from all licensed and promotional products by 2008. The timing is dictated by contractual agreements, the company said.

Critics of children's advertising largely praised Disney but said the company could do more.

"The mouse has made a major step forward," said David Britt, former chief executive of Sesame Workshop, who contributed to a 2005 Institute of Medicine report that said food and beverage advertising enticed children to eat poorly.

While praising Disney, Britt added that the company did not address its presence on the Internet or radio. Other critics said the company needs to stop running ads for unhealthful foods on ABC, which airs cartoons on Saturdays and on its cable networks.

"It's a great first step, but it can't be their last. They also need to address their television advertising," said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

"They need to stop advertising junk food on their television stations and on ABC," said Susan Linn, co-founder of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

Disney officials said before it makes any changes to its advertising, it is awaiting guidelines being developed by the Children's Advertising Review Unit of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, an industry self-regulatory group.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company