Tuesday, June 05, 2012

First Lady Michelle Obama Hails Disney's New Nutrition Standards As 'Game Changer'

The scale of the Let's Move! campaign grows exponentially with pledge from iconic entertainment company...
First Lady Michelle Obama has enjoyed a series of unprecedented private-sector pledges of support for the Let's Move! campaign in the last two years. But she described herself as "thrilled" five times on Tuesday morning during a press conference at the Newseum in Washington, DC, when she joined Robert A. Iger, Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company, as he unveiled the company's plans for strict new nutritional guidelines for food products marketed to children in its many media outlets. Iger also announced plans for nutritional changes to the foods served at Disney resorts and parks, and those sold in grocery stores. (Above: Mrs. Obama and Iger)

"I am thrilled that Disney is stepping forward in such a big way to stand alongside America's parents," said Mrs. Obama, clad in a dress of bright patchwork squares and standing against a backdrop of the company logo, a jaunty Mickey Mouse.

"This new initiative is truly a game changer for the health of our children."

In 2010, during a speech to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Mrs. Obama called for food manufacturers to "rethink" the way they advertise to children, asking them to consider putting their ad dollars towards promoting healthier foods rather than junk food. Disney has heeded the call: Many of America's most beloved and iconic characters will now be foot soldiers in the battle to end childhood obesity, which according to the latest federal measure is 17% of children ages 2-17.

By 2015, Iger said, "all food and beverage products advertised, sponsored, or promoted on Disney Channel, Disney XD, Disney Junior, Radio Disney, and Disney-owned online destinations" must meet nutritional standards that are in line with federal dietary guidelines, and promote the consumption of fruits and vegetables, limit portion size and calories, and have a reduction in sugar, saturated fat, and sodium.
Disney said it is already working with major food companies to reformulate products that can be advertised, promoted or sponsored on the Disney Channel, Disney XD, Disney Junior, Radio Disney, Disney.com and Saturday morning programming for kids on ABC-owned stations.
Disney said it is already working with major food companies to reformulate products that can be advertised, promoted or sponsored on the Disney Channel, Disney XD, Disney Junior, Radio Disney, Disney.com and Saturday morning programming for kids on ABC-owned stations.
Disney said it is already working with major food companies to reformulate products that can be advertised, promoted or sponsored on the Disney Channel, Disney XD, Disney Junior, Radio Disney, Disney.com and Saturday morning programming for kids on ABC-owned stations.
Disney said it is already working with major food companies to reformulate products that can be advertised, promoted or sponsored on the Disney Channel, Disney XD, Disney Junior, Radio Disney, Disney.com and Saturday morning programming for kids on ABC-owned stations.

That includes advertisements on Saturday morning kids' shows on ABC stations; Disney is the parent company.

"Just a few years ago if you had told me or any other mom or dad in America that our kids wouldn’t see a single ad for junk food while they watched their favorite cartoons on a major TV network, we wouldn’t have believed you because parents know better than anyone else just how effective and pervasive those advertisements have become," Mrs. Obama said.

She said that kids view food and beverage marketing that amount to an estimated $1.6 billion a year, including ads for foods that are high in calories and sugar, and low in nutrition.

"I'm thrilled that over the next couple of years, when our kids tune into their favorite shows on Disney channels or they log onto the Disney web site, they will no longer be bombarded with unhealthy messages during those commercial breaks," Mrs. Obama said.

"Instead, they will see ads for foods that we might actually want them to eat--ads that can reinforce healthy habits and teach kids very important lessons."

Iger also announced the new "Mickey Check," a graphic symbol that will go on Disney branded food items sold at parks, resorts, and in grocery stores, which feature characters on the packages. The foods include fresh fruit, processed products, dairy items, and drinks. Between 2007 and 2010, Disney sold more than 1.3 billion servings of Disney-branded fruits and vegetables. In 2010, it sold 50 million servings of Disney branded dairy products. Shaped like the famous mouse's ears, the "Mickey Check" symbol is designed to assure parents that the food product is "healthy."

"When moms see Mickey on the box, they can say yes and feel good about it,” Iger said.

The new commitment expands Disney's Magic of Healthy Living campaign, launched in September of 2010 to support Let's Move!, and builds on a nutrition revamp that started in 2006. Disney on Tuesday also pledged to reduce the amount of sodium by 25% in the 12 million kids' meals served annually at its parks and resorts. Right now, parents choose Disney's healthier offerings about 60% of the time, Iger said--"even when on vacation." The company will also offer fresh fruit at more outlets in its parks.

The scale of Let's Move! grows exponentially...
Though Mrs. Obama's operative mantra for the Let's Move! campaign is "small steps can make a big difference," Disney's announcement is the latest in a series of super-sized private sector pledges that support her national initiative. Let's Move! is now scaled on a level that--like a Saturday morning of cartoons free of junk food ads--was unimaginable three years ago. Mrs. Obama also has America's largest grocer, Walmart, America's largest fast-casual dining company, Darden Restaurants, Inc., and one of America's largest hotel companies, Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, committed to working on various initiatives for the Lets Move! campaign, as well as many other private corporations, from grocery stores through childcare facilities.

But Disney stands out, Mrs. Obama said.

"This is a major American company, a global brand that is literally changing the way it does business so that our kids can lead healthier lives,” Mrs. Obama said. “With this new initiative, Disney is doing what no major media company has ever done before in the United States."

Taken together, the Let's Move! private sector pledges impact most of the citizens of America.

"Make no mistake about it--this is huge," Mrs. Obama said about Disney. "That’s why I'm here. It's huge."

Indeed, Mrs. Obama doesn't show up for just any corporate nutrition announcement. She did not join McDonald's executives in July of 2011 when the company announced a "healthy" revamp of its kids' Happy Meals. The news made global headlines, but Mrs. Obama merely issued a lukewarm statement, saying that she "looks forward" to McDonald's "efforts in the years to come."

First Lady urges parents to support companies that make changes...
Disney's changes, like those of the other companies that are supporting Let's Move!, are based on an enlightened business model, Mrs. Obama said. The company has "seen the market shifting as folks are increasingly interested in buying healthier food, and they’ve seen the momentum building all across this country on behalf of our children’s health," Mrs. Obama said.

"And they’ve realized that what is good for our children can also be good business."

As she ended her remarks, the First Lady reminded parents that they have a role to play too: Ensuring that Disney and other companies that engage in child health initiatives aren't sorry.

"As parents, it isn’t enough to just ask for change. It’s not enough just to make the right choices for our kids," Mrs. Obama said.

"We also need to support those companies who are listening to us, because if we do that as parents and consumers, if we make a statement not just with our voices but also with our feet and with our wallets, then we will keep seeing the changes that we hope for. We will keep seeing more choices available for our kids."

Before exiting the stage, the First Lady congratulated Disney "for taking this monumental step forward and setting the bar very high."

"I look forward to standing with even more businesses and partners who support the health of America’s families in the months and years ahead," Mrs. Obama said.

There is no doubt that she will be. When Disney first announced its nutritional changes in 2006, it led to a domino effect in the industry. And while Disney competitor Nickelodeon recently agreed to join Birds Eye Frozen Foods Division for its GenVeg campaign, which will market frozen vegetables and vegetable products to children to support Let's Move!, the company has announced no nutritional standards for other companies buying ad space on the network. Mrs. Obama cameo'd on Nickelodeon's hit show iCarly earlier this year, and also joined the network's Worldwide Day of Play in Washington, DC.

Disney and the FTC...
Last year, major food and media companies battled the Obama Administration over proposed "voluntary guidelines" from the Federal Trade Commission regarding food marketing to children. The food and beverage industry ultimately came up with its own set of guidelines that are less strict. Called the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, member companies include Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, General Mills, and Kellogg's, which sell their products on Disney channels.

Federal Trade Commission chairman Jon Leibowitz was at the press conference, and said Disney's efforts are “consistent with the goals of the FTC.” He added that it is preferable for industry to act on its own, rather than be regulated by the government.

Mrs. Obama's Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives Sam Kass and her Chief of Staff, Tina Tchen, joined her at the Newseum. Lawrence Soler, Chair and CEO of Partnership for a Healthier America, the foundation that monitors private sector commitments for Let's Move!, was also at the event, as were Sen. Chris Dodd, chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America, and Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski. (Above: Tchen, left, and Kass, right, and two Disney chefs listen to Mrs. Obama speak)

Disney was already marketing its new initiative at the press conference: The invited members of the audience for the press conference were parents, child health advocates, nutrition experts and community leaders. They were served a lovely Disney breakfast before Mrs. Obama arrived, created by chef Gary Jones, who manages food for the resort arm of the company. He was joined by Chef Mickey Mouse, who posed for photos in between scooping fruit-topped oatmeal into bowls. The lavish spread included lowfat berry yogurt smoothies, a goat cheese and egg souffle, fresh smoked salmon and bagels, and even little lollipops, made of Rice Krispies and chocolate, shaped like Mickey's head.

"It's all about portion size," Jones said as he offered the treats to guests.

The White House did not release a video of Mrs. Obama's remarks. An ABC clip:

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*The transcript of the First Lady's remarks.

*The White House press release about the new commitment.

*Photos by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama