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Disney gets serious on nutrition

Guidelines aim to improve food at US parks and in product deals

LOS ANGELES -- Walt Disney Co. will serve healthier meals at its US theme parks and reduce fat and sugar in Disney-branded foods as part of a push to improve the diets of children, the company said yesterday.

The guidelines will also extend to fast food restaurants that sign deals to promote Disney movies.

Chief executive Robert Iger said the move came in response to comments from parents about the eating habits of their kids.

The company was ``well aware of the huge responsibility we have, given our reach and our ability to impact people's behavior and opinions," Iger said in Singapore, where he was on business.

Given the increased attention to healthier eating, ``it was the right thing to do," he said. Disney owns theme parks in Orlando, Fla., and Anaheim, Calif., along with its movie studio and ABC television network.

A consumer advocacy group said Disney didn't go far enough, particularly concerning TV commercials aimed at children.

``If Disney really cared about kids, it would stop all marketing of junk food to children, including on ABC," Gary Ruskin, executive director of the watchdog group Commercial Alert, said in a statement.

Other critics said companies such as Disney were trying to avoid lawsuits and possible federal regulations over childhood obesity.

In a prepared statement, Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, praised Disney's new guidelines.

``I hope that this move is only a first step, and that we can continue to do more to protect our children's health," said Harkin, who is spearheading legislation to restore the authority of the Federal Trade Commission to regulate the advertising of junk food to people under 18.

Under the Disney plan, trans fats will be eliminated from meals at domestic parks by the end of next year and will not be included in licensed and promotional products by 2008.

Other changes will be implemented during the next several years as current contracts expire.

Iger said the company also sees a business opportunity in promoting and licensing healthier products, ranging from breakfast cereals to the children's meals it serves at its 11 theme parks worldwide.

The entertainment giant licenses characters to Indianapolis-based produce distributor Imagination Farms LLC to provide fruits and vegetables for the Disney Garden brand.

Last month, the Federal Communications Commission disclosed plans to study links between the ads that appear on kids TV shows and the rise in childhood obesity.

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