LOS ANGELES – The Walt Disney Co. will begin serving more nutritionally balanced meals at its domestic theme parks and will sign movie and other endorsement deals only with restaurants that limit fat and sugar in menu items, the company said Monday.
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, Disney said.
Disney CEO Robert Iger said the move came in response to comments from parents about the eating habits of their children.
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 told The Associated Press from Singapore, where he was on business.
Given the increased attention to healthier eating, "it was the right thing to do," he said.
Disney said it would implement the new guidelines over 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 worldwide theme parks.
The entertainment giant currently licenses characters to Indianapolis-based produce distributor Imagination Farms LLC to provide fruits and vegetables for the Disney Garden brand.
Other large consumer products companies also are pushing healthier eating.
McDonald's Corp. has been adding more salads and fruit to its menus, while Wendy's International Inc. recently said it would switch to cooking french fries and breaded chicken items with non-hydrogenated oil.
Last month, the Federal Communications Commission announced plans to study links between the ads that appear on kids TV shows and the rise of childhood obesity.
A number of entertainment companies have come under fire for maintaining marketing deals with fast food chains and junk food makers.
Last year, Disney and McDonald's ended an exclusive 10-year deal to promote animated films using Happy Meals. The move coincided with a growing national interest in healthier eating for kids — although both companies said the decision had more to do with a desire to work with other promotional partners.
Disney said it worked with physicians to develop the new food guidelines that:
--Place a cap on total calories, which will result in smaller portion for children.
--Limit fat to a maximum of 30 percent of calories for entrees and side dishes, and 35 percent for snacks.
--Cap saturated fat at 10 percent of calories for main dishes, side dishes and snacks.
--Limit sugar to 10 percent of calories for main dishes and side dishes, and 25 percent of calories for snacks.
The company will keep licensing sweets for special occasions, such as birthday cakes and holiday candies, but will limit the number of "indulgence" items in its total food portfolio to 15 percent by 2010.
Starting this month, kid's meals at Disney's domestic parks are being served with low-fat milk, 100 percent fruit juice, or water, along with side dishes such as apple sauce or carrots in place of french fries and soft drinks.
Parents can still request soda or fries at no additional cost.