Yesterday, I went to a Colorado Rockies baseball game with Mike and the kids. We sat in the cheap seats, high above the field with a gorgeous view of the stadium, the players on the diamond, and the mountains beyond. It was the perfect day for baseball. Too often though, I was distracted by the scene unfolding directly in front of me: a family with school-age kids eating a parade of unhealthy food. Each time a new “snack” appeared I grew more agitated.
I know, I know. I’m a crazy person. It’s none of my business. Stuff like that shouldn’t bother me so much. It’s a baseball game, for crying out loud! People eat junk at a baseball game. I eat junk at a baseball game. But this went far beyond a hot dog and a beer or snow cone. Personal pizzas, large slushy drinks, push-up suckers, a HUGE bag of kettle corn for each kid, nachos, large cups of ice cream. I think there was more but I lost track. This, in the least obese state in the nation.
Kids don’t have a chance when that’s their normal. They need solid nutrition guidelines at home to prepare them for the constant barrage of advertising and other influences out in the world. Food developers and advertisers know kids are easily influenced, and often have a big say in the what their parents purchase. Today there are more ways than ever to target those kids, through television, movies, games, computer time, even theme parks and sporting events. For example, in 2005, The Center for Science in the Public Interest showed that nine out of 10 advertisements airing during Saturday morning children’s television programming were for unhealthy foods.
Last week, The Walt Disney Co. reduced a large chunk of that exposure by pledging to ban ads for junk food on its television channels, radio stations and websites. The new rules, which take effect in 2015, hit common kid favorites and current Disney advertisers such as Capri-Sun (too much sugar) and Lunchables (high sodium). Sugary cereals with 10 grams or more of sugar per serving are also out, and a complete meal can’t have more than 600 calories. The new guidelines, which also limit saturated fat, are based on government nutrition standards.
Disney won’t say how much advertising revenue is at stake, but the ban encompasses multiple media avenues including Saturday-morning programming on Disney-owned ABC stations, Disney XD, Radio Disney, and Disney.com. The Disney Channel has sponsorships, but does not run ads.
On the heels of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed super-size soda ban, Disney’s stance might prove more palatable to consumers than direct government intervention.
Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest said she hopes Disney’s announcement will pressure other children’s media such as Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network to institute similar changes.
First lady Michelle Obama, who has championed a healthier generation of kids with her Let’s Move! campaign, calls the Disney initiative a “game changer.”
I hope so. If we are to have an impact on obesity in America, change needs to take place on a cultural level, and Disney is an iconic symbol of children’s culture. Maybe baseball stadiums should step up to the plate next.