The Disney Diet

Article excerpt

Byline: Trevor Butterworth

Can cutting junk-food ads make kids healthier?

The Walt Disney Co.'s decision to set tough new health standards on food advertising has been hailed by no less than first lady Michelle Obama, who called it a "game changer" in America's struggle against obesity. Maybe it will be. Part of the test will be whether food companies respond by limiting saturated fat and sugar in their products, and whether parents and kids will actually buy them.

But in terms of saving children from temptation, the research on food advertising is suggestive rather than definitive. It's easy to associate overweight children and weight gain with exposure to unhealthy-food advertisements, but it's another thing to show that these advertisements persuaded the kids to persuade their parents to buy the food that made them fat.

"I think the data is not overly convincing because it is really a hard question to tackle empirically," says Eric Finkelstein, an expert on the economics of health behavior and the author of The Fattening of America. But, he says, common sense suggests that food companies wouldn't be spending so much to target children's TV if it didn't have an impact on sales. It's reasonable to assume that changing that dynamic would have a positive effect on weight. "Disney's move," he says, "seems to be one in the right direction. …