ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Walt Disney has a message for its food and beverage advertisers: get healthier. Because Disney will stop running ads for junk food during children's programming. Well, not just now but in 2015. That is essentially what the company said today when it announced a plan to advertise only food products that meet the company's nutrition standards. Those standards call for limiting calories and reducing fat, salt and sugar. Here's Disney Chairman and CEO Robert Iger.
ROBERT IGER: Parents tell us they need our support, and we're listening because the better we meet the needs and expectations of families, the brighter our future looks. And as it turns out, doing the right thing for kids just happens to be a smart strategy for the Walt Disney Company and for its businesses.
SIEGEL: Iger appeared with Michelle Obama, who is campaigning for better nutrition. Joining me now to talk about this is Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition and food studies at New York University and the author of "Why Calories Count." Welcome to the program once again.
MARION NESTLE: Glad to be here.
SIEGEL: How big a deal is this?
NESTLE: It's a big deal. Disney is an enormous company with an enormous reach and an enormous influence over children and if it's taking a stance in favor of health, that's going to send a signal to a lot of other companies to do the same thing.
SIEGEL: What it's applying here are Disney's nutrition guidelines. What do you think of Disney's nutrition guidelines?
NESTLE: Well, there are a couple of things that are at issue here. One is the guidelines themselves, which involve serious reduction in the salt in the products that are served and marketed and less of a reduction in sugars. These are tweaking of processed food products. I mean, all of this is about obesity and if Disney really wants to do something about obesity, it's unfortunately stuck in the position of either having to sell less food, or having to reduce the portion size so kids are eating less and fewer calories.
That is something that none of these companies are talking about because from a business perspective, they can't talk about it.
SIEGEL: But if you were looking, say, at a bellwether food, something which someone in this case Disney might classify as acceptably healthful, but you think should be classified as unhealthful, what food be right there at the...
NESTLE: Well, I'm not sure that that's the right question to ask. Obesity is about calories. People have to eat less and hopefully eat better. So what Disney's guidelines are aimed at doing is to help people eat better. But if they're still eating as much, the calories will still be there. It's not changing - reducing the salt doesn't change the calories.
And then the other issue is the three-year wait. I can understand why they have to do that. They have contractual obligations so this is a long, slow process. But what struck me so strongly about the Disney announcement was that it reminded me so much of the announcement that Kraft foods made in the early 2000s about what they were going to be doing with those products.
A lot of the things they promised to do never happened. And so this is one of those situations where it sounds really, really good, but I want to see what's going to happen in practice. I want to see how they're going to stop advertising these products to children under the age of 12 and whether that will make any real difference in their advertising.
SIEGEL: We have a couple of different examples this week of very public statements about nutrition. New York City, city government planning to ban very big, sugary drinks, and in this case a company planning to impose its own guidelines. This isn't a government, Disney. It's a company that's made billions off of talking animals, frankly. We're not talking about a science-based organization here.
NESTLE: What we're seeing is everyone trying to figure out how to make it easier for people to eat more healthfully without having to do a lot of serious thinking about it. Mayor Bloomberg's approach to this was to try to reduce the portion size of soft drinks, which is one way to reduce the calories. Disney's idea is a different one. They're going to stop marketing certain kinds of foods to children, and for that they deserve wild, enthusiastic applause.
I don't think junk food should be marketed to children at all under any circumstances.
SIEGEL: Nutritionist Marion Nestle, thank you very much for talking with us once again.
NESTLE: A pleasure.
AUDIE CORNISH HOST: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.