The Walt Disney Company, in a first for a US media giant, said Tuesday it will ban junk-food advertising on its TV channels and websites from 2015 to help fight obesity among US children.
"This new initiative is truly a game changer for the health of our children," said First Lady Michelle Obama, a champion of better eating for young people who attended Disney's landmark announcement in Washington.
"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," she said.
In a statement, Disney said all food and drinks advertised on Disney Channel, Disney XD, Disney Junior, Radio Disney, and Disney-owned children's websites would, from 2015, be required to meet its own nutrition guidelines.
The rules will also apply during Saturday morning cartoons on the ABC stations owned by Disney, which reach one in four American households from New York to Los Angeles.
"The nutrition guidelines are aligned to federal standards, promote fruit and vegetable consumption and call for limiting calories and reducing saturated fat, sodium, and sugar," it said.
Breakfast cereals, for instance, would have to contain less than 10 grams of sugar per serving in order to be advertised on Disney outlets. Kellogg's Sugar Frosted Flakes, squarely targeted at youngsters, now come in at 11 grams.
Besides the new advertising standards, Disney said it would roll out a "Mickey Check" check-mark icon this year to identify nutritious food and menu items at its retail shops and theme parks.
Seventeen percent of US children are obese, a figure that has tripled in 30 years, according to a report last month from the Institute of Medicine that warned of a "catastrophic" impact on national health care and productivity.
Another study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, said 42 percent of Americans could be obese by 2030 -- the year when today's eight year olds will be turning 26.
"I believe this is a positive development," said Kelly Brownell, Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, in an email to AFP.
"Disney has credibility and reach, and they have set quite good standards for what can be promoted as healthy food. I believe they are making good progress and other media companies will have to take notice."
The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), whose members include such food industry giants as Kellogg's and Kraft Foods, called Disney's announcement "another important step" to helping consumers have a healthy diet.
'We have voluntarily adopted strict advertising criteria," it added, "so that 100 percent of ads seen on children's programming from GMA members now promote healthier diet choices and better-for-you products.
But others expressed skepticism.
"Kids aren't obese because they are watching fast food commercials on the Disney Channel," wrote a Virginia resident under an online story about Tuesday's announcement on the website of Advertising Age, a trade journal.
"They are obese because instead of being active, they are sitting in front of a TV... How about creating TV shows that challenge kids to be active while watching?"
Speaking from Los Angeles, a Disney spokeswoman explained that the 2015 start year for the guidelines had been set in order to allow existing advertising agreements to expire.