By Chris Casey | University Communications
AURORA, Colo. - James O. Hill, PhD, executive director of the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center, played a key role in developing the Walt Disney Company's ambitious nutritional guidelines, which are a groundbreaking step toward fighting the nation's childhood obesity epidemic.
The company unveiled its new nutrition initiatives today in an announcement with First Lady Michelle Obama.
"This development is going to do more to curb childhood obesity than anything that's been done in the past decade," Hill said.
Hill and Keith T. Ayoob, associate clinical professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, have worked with Disney since 2006 in establishing the company's landmark nutrition standards.
"We spent the last year revising the guidelines, looking at the new science, looking at the food supply," Hill said. "This is amazing because there are a lot of guidelines out there, but they're more aspirational. These are guidelines you can use and live by."
Hill said Disney is committed to using the guidelines across the company, from theme parks to Disney-licensed products to the types of advertising permitted on its TV channels, radio stations and websites.
For example, the New York Times reported, Disney will reduce the amount of sodium by 25 percent in the 12 million children's meals served annually at its theme parks. After Hill and Ayoob worked on the first nutritional standards with Disney six years ago, the company's parks began replacing entree sides such as fries and chips with fruits and vegetables.
With the revised guidelines -- which place limits on total calories, saturated fats, sugar and sodium, as well as promote whole grains and healthy breakfasts -- the company becomes a national leader in the fight against childhood obesity, Hill said.
"With Disney out there it almost shames everybody else to say, 'Oh my gosh, we better address this,'" Hill said. "It's one company that others are going to look at and say they want to keep up."
As the nation's childhood obesity crisis worsened -- the number of overweight children and adolescents in the U.S. has doubled in recent decades -- Disney in 2006 began examining its nutritional standards. "They were looking for experts to help them, and they approached me and Keith Ayoob, and the two of us have worked with them as nutritional experts throughout this whole process."
Hill served as chair of the first World Health Organization Consultation on Obesity and president of the North American Association for the Study of Obesity. At last month's dedication of the new Anschutz Health and Wellness Center, Hill said the goal of the center and its partners will be to reduce obesity in Colorado by 10 percent by 2022.
Nationally, obesity rates are expected to climb from today's 30 percent to 42 percent by 2030.
Hill said Disney has taken an impressive, and risky, stance in limiting media outlet food-product advertising to products that meet the company's nutrition guidelines. "So, if you're a mom or dad out there, you're only going to see advertisements for foods that we feel fit into a healthy diet," he said.
The new advertising guidelines reportedly won't take effect until 2015 because of existing contracts with advertisers. Although Disney may lose some current advertisers, Hill said, the decision will pay off in the long term because the company will attract new advertisers that want to promote healthy choices for families.
Disney’s guidelines are available starting today at www.thewaltdisneycompany.com/mohl. The company’s standards are based on the federal government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Federal Trade Commission’s proposed guidelines for food marketing to children.
The high-profile announcement -- on the heels of New York City's plan to ban the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks -- has again put Hill and the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center in the spotlight as leaders in the battle against obesity. Hill was interviewed by numerous local and national media outlets today.
As part of its campaign, Disney will create public service announcements promoting child exercise and healthy eating. The company will also release a new healthy food logo, "Mickey Check," for Disney-licensed grocery store products.
"I'm very, very pleased with this announcement by Disney," Hill said. "I think what they've done today is really going to be a huge step forward in addressing childhood obesity."
(Photo: James O. Hill, executive director of the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center, explains Disney's nutrition guidelines to a member of the media.)