The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


June 21, 2012

Small step: Despite Disney's ad ban, dietitian says parents have bigger influence on eating habits

JOPLIN, Mo. — When the Walt Disney Co. announced this month that it would no longer advertise candy, sugary cereal, high-fat meals or other junk food on its TV networks, the move was hailed as a game changer by the nation’s top mom, First Lady Michelle Obama.

“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,” said Obama, who heads a campaign to curb child obesity.

While some in the industry criticize Disney for not going far enough, a local dietitian said that there’s an even bigger influence on kids’ eating choices than TV: Parents.

“Parents can provide plenty of fruits and vegetables, and prepare healthier meals,” said Carrie Phillips, a dietitian with Sisters of Mercy Health System in Joplin. “Children’s choices of foods and beverages can be more influenced by parents’ choices.”

The food that doesn’t meet Disney’s nutritional standards goes beyond candy bars and fast-food meals. Any cereal with 10 grams or more of sugar per serving is off the air. A full meal can’t be more than 600 calories.

However, those changes won’t take effect until 2015.

The ban will apply to TV channels like Disney XD, as well as children’s programming in the Saturday morning block aired on Disney-owned ABC stations. Radio Disney and Disney-owned websites aimed at families with young children will also adhere to the ban. The company’s Disney Channel has sponsorships, but does not run ads.

While Disney’s move is viewed as a positive step, health professionals say the step is too small. Susan Levin, director of nutrition education at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, said that Disney’s standards weave a net with large holes.

“As far as I can tell, the focus is exclusively on calories, sugar and sodium,” Levin said to The Tampa Bay Times. “Let’s take breakfast cereal. They’re not going to let brands be advertised with more than 130 calories, 10 grams sugar or 200 milligrams of sodium. So cereals like Lucky Charms, Count Chocula, those junk food cereals still meet those standards.”

Childhood obesity leads to higher cholesterol and blood pressure, both of which are risks for heart disease. It also increases the risk for Type 2 diabetes and sleep apnea, Phillips said.

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