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BLOG: Walt Disney combating childhood obesity?

Author: Abby Olson
Published: Thursday, March 8 2012

We all know that childhood obesity is a hot topic and widely talked about in the media. As future dietitians it is our responsibility to inform and educate the public on healthy eating choices, moderation, physical activity, etc. Even Michelle Obama has taken action in the fight against childhood obesity with the Let’s Move program. Well folks, as you should have guessed, it was only a matter of time before Disney was involved in the latest phenomenon. Recently Disney’s Epcot teamed up with Blue Cross and Blue Shield to open an exhibit called Habit Heroes.

The goal of this interactive exhibit is to battle bad habits by targeting sedentary activities and excessive snacking of empty calories from processed foods. The exhibit is led by the Habit Heroes named Will Power and Callie Stenics as they battle the bad habit enemies (Snacker, Lead Bottom, and The Glutton). The kids will go through a series of video games where they blow up TVs and try and shoot “junk food” with healthy food as ammo. The last stop for the kids gets their heart pumping with an interactive dance/aerobic activity.

You may be wondering to yourself… Is this the right way to go about educating our children about a healthy lifestyle? Well, you are not the first one to question Disney’s approach. The initial opening of this exhibit allowed feedback from the public before the official opening, and good thing they did because parents, doctors, and other health organizations fired back with disapproving comments.

Of course we know it is important to inform Americans that eating an excessive amount of processed high calorie food and a sedentary lifestyle will lead to obesity and health problems. However, it has been pointed out to Disney that they lack consideration for eating disorders and other psychological problems that are common in overweight children and adults. Parents have shown concern for their children’s self-esteem, and thoughts also rise about bullying because if kids see it at Disney it must be acceptable, right? After criticism and negative feed back Disney and Blue Cross and Blue Shield are currently working on revamping the exhibit to be more sensitive and not focus on obesity as the sole result of poor habits.

Saint Louis University Dietetic Interns on Disney obesity

This situation is not black and white. It is true that our country’s obesity rate has increased dramatically in both adults and children. A lot of it has to do with sedentary lifestyles and processed foods. What a majority of the general population does not understand is the multifactorial cause of obesity including lack of access to healthy foods, elimination of PE class, eating disorders, the home environment, and many other factors.

Disney needs to take a step back and reevaluate their educational approach to fighting childhood obesity. I think they have good intentions but the last thing we want is to point fingers at the obese kids and their families at “The Happiest Place On Earth”. Kids of every shape and size can have unhealthy habits. Perhaps they need the knowledge and vision from a creative young dietitian’s mind. In that case, is anyone looking for a job? I think Disney may have some job openings ;)

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