Childhood Obesity and the Disney Empire, Part 2

Food Patio at Walt Disney World

Childhood Obesity News was looking at the Walt Disney Company’s decision to change its advertising habits and start rating food for nutritional sufficiency. Is the company embracing innovation, or just bowing to the inevitable? Some say that within two or three years, everybody will have guidelines laid down by law anyway. The writing was on the wall, and it was merely a choice between adjusting sooner or later. Some say that a dislike of governmental regulation is what stimulated Disney to make a change. Supposedly, corporations are now people, and like any self-respecting person, Disney would rather take an unpleasant step on its own initiative than wait to be forced.

Scoffers say that whatever promises any player in the food industry may make, without the power of law to back them up, such pledges are unenforceable. Possibly, the publicity that is generated might be more voluminous than the actual change. Some critics feel that Disney’s voluntary moves exert peer-group pressure upon other media giants like the Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon.

David Vinjamuri of Forbes writes:

Disney’s brand is based on being a safe choice for kids that is acceptable to parents. With a mountain of scientific evidence and increasing consumer awareness, it was obvious to Disney that products advertised on Disney-owned channels were harming children.

But is it so very obvious? Trevor Butterworth contributes this thought in Newsweek, via The Daily Beast:

In terms of saving children from temptation, the research on food advertising is suggestive rather than definitive. It’s easy to associate overweight children and weight gain with exposure to unhealthy-food advertisements, but it’s another thing to show that these advertisements persuaded the kids to persuade their parents to buy the food that made them fat.

In other words, when it comes to knowing whether reduced advertising can really make a difference, the jury is still out. As Childhood Obesity News has mentioned many times, a much larger problem lies beneath the childhood obesity epidemic — the reality of food addiction. Of course, it helps if vulnerable children and recovering addicts don’t have advertisements for junk food shoved in their faces 24/7. But advertising reform is far from being a complete solution.

Butterworth quotes economics/health expert Eric Finkelstein, who brings up yet another objection:

Common sense also suggests that Disney would prefer its audience to see television ads […] as the problem and not television itself.

Maybe the problem lies not in the content of what’s on the TV screen, but in the very fact of sitting around watching TV rather than doing something active. Butterworth also adds a detail that should interest grownups who think of children as passive sponges who soak up everything a corporation chooses to throw in their direction:

When it comes to kids and technology, the kids, as always, are way ahead of the adults. A recent study in Britain found that 10- and 11-year-olds were now multiscreening — watching TV and using a laptop or cellphone at the same time. When the researchers asked why, the kids explained that it meant they could skip the ads.

Take that, corporate brainwashers!

(To be continued…)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Disney Rejects Junk Food And Other Brands Should Too,” Forbes, 06/06/12
Source: “Disney’s Junk Food Crackdown,” Newsweek via The Daily Beast, 06/11/12
Image by mrkathika (Michael Gray), used under its Creative Commons license.

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

Food & Health Resources