First lady backs Disney on junk food


THE CRUSADE against obesity gained momentum yesterday when US first lady Michelle Obama teamed up with the Walt Disney Company to announce measures intended to protect children from sugary drinks, cereal, sweets and fast food.

The initiative came five days after New York mayor Michael Bloomberg provoked an uproar by proposing that the city’s restaurants, cinemas, street vendors and stadiums limit the sale of sugary drinks to 16-ounce servings.

Two-thirds of adults and one-third of children in the US are overweight or obese. The US spends $192 billion annually on obesity-related healthcare.

Ms Obama and Disney chairman and chief executive Robert Iger said that by 2015, advertising aimed at children on Disney-owned television channels, radio stations and websites will exclude food and drinks that do not meet Disney’s new nutritional guidelines, as published on the company’s website.

Disney has already taken Mickey Mouse off packaging for Pop-Tarts and characters from Toy Story have been removed from McDonald’s happy meals. New food packets in the shape of Mickey’s head contain apples, cheese and grapes. Disney says it will lose some advertising revenue, but the initiative is good for its image as a reliable, family-orientated company.

Ms Obama has made the fight against childhood obesity the signature effort of her years in the White House. In 2009, President Barack Obama proposed a national soft-drinks tax to lower consumption of sugary drinks, but the $75 billion a year soft-drink industry fought back with a $40 million lobbying effort and the drink tax never made it into healthcare legislation.

Now Mr Bloomberg has taken up the gauntlet against sugary drinks. His proposal is certain to be passed by New York City’s health board, which is appointed by him. It could take effect by next March, making New York the first US city to limit the portion size of soft drinks to fight obesity.

In a NY1-Marist poll published on Monday, 53 per cent of respondents said Mr Bloomberg’s proposal was a bad idea, while 42 per cent said it was a good idea. A group funded by restaurants is running an advertising campaign depicting Bloomberg as a frumpy nanny. “You only thought you lived in the land of the free,” it says.

When Mr Bloomberg endorsed the proposal of governor Andrew Cuomo to decriminalise possession of small amounts of marijuana, conservatives protested that he was legalising pot but criminalising soft drinks.

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