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In recognition of the impact they have on the world, media organizations have begun to step up support of initiatives aimed at directly benefitting their audiences and communities in different ways. These “corporate responsibility” or “citizenship” programs range from reducing the carbon footprint of film production to recycling and wellness programs at corporate headquarters to local volunteer programs and philanthropy.

What motivates these organizations to give back? On the more cynical side, one could say that these they want to generate good will and good business by doing good deeds. On the more altruistic side, one could guess that these organizations really want to help and support their audiences and communities.

Disney Healthy Living logo (credit: Disney website)

The Walt Disney Company’s nutrition efforts are a great example of media organization-generated public health initiatives aimed at reducing consumption of less nutritious food, encouraging good nutrition and ultimately, helping to reduce the rates of childhood obesity. For example, using its easily recognizable logo as a base for a check mark tag, they are encouraging grocery store shoppers to buy Disney-licensed products that meet their criteria for limited calories, saturated fat, sodium and sugar. Yes, this promotes their products, and it may encourage a better choice of food for younger children.

As this New York Times article from June 5, 2012 explains, Disney was motivated, by concerns about media’s role in childhood obesity and by the fact that this and related programs (like reducing the amount of sodium in food at its theme parks and new advertising standards for content aimed at young children) make good business sense. Though time and public health research studies will tell the true impact of these nutrition programs, I give them an “A” for effort.

  • Here is a summary of research on evidence linking watching TV and advertising on childhood obesity: Media’s Effect on Obesity in Kids (published in Journal of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, July 27, 2011).
  • This summary is based on an American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement: American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media. Policy Statement. Children, adolescents, obesity, and the media. Pediatrics 2011 Jul; 128:201.
  • Disney Citizenship (including environment and conservation and community engagement)

In my view, a good business motivation does not have to trump credit for good public health communication or social marketing efforts. Do you agree or disagree…and why?