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Disney 'to ban junk food adverts' PDF Print E-mail

Walt Disney will “ban junk food ads on its TV, radio and online programmes”, according to the BBC. The Disney corporation has announced that by 2015 it will phase out adverts for products not conforming with its nutritional guidelines, and will also aim to promote healthier foods such as fruit. Nearly one third of US children are estimated to be overweight or obese.

As well as producing films and TV shows, Disney operates a string of children’s television stations and the national broadcaster ABC, which means this decision is likely to have a major impact on the way unhealthy foods are marketed and sold in the US. The guidelines stipulate that to be suitable for advertising, food products must contain limited levels of sugar, salt and fat. All meals sold must also conform to strict limits when it comes to advertising. For example, fast food hamburger meals can’t be promoted if their total nutrient content is at an unhealthy level, even if the burger, fries and drink components are each within the required limits when counted separately.

Also among the restrictions is a ruling that no products containing added trans fats can be advertised. Trans fats are a controversial type of fat that some experts consider to be particularly damaging to health. Added transfats or hydrogenated fats can be found in some processed foods such as cakes and biscuits. In the UK most people eat below the recommended levels of these fats, although in the US they are more commonly added to food to help give products a longer shelf life.

US First Lady Michelle Obama has welcomed the move, calling it a “game changer for the health of our children” at the Disney press conference. Mrs Obama currently runs a national campaign to help promote health, nutrition and physical activity among US children.

Disney is not alone in launching eye-catching initiatives aimed at improving the health of children. The Cartoon Network has set up the “Move It Movement”, associated with a US government children’s fitness initiative, The President’s Challenge.


What is being changed?

From 2015, food and drink companies advertising on US Disney channels will have to comply with the company’s nutrition guidelines, which were established in 2006. The company says its guidelines were drawn up with the help of nutritional experts and are in line with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans standards set by the US government.

Disney’s nutrition guidelines have already been used to associate its brand, storylines and characters with more nutritionally balanced foods, such as Disney-branded dried fruit. It is also committed to ensuring 85% of its own licensed food products, sold in its resorts or through retailers, meet the guidelines. The company says the remaining 15% of foods will be “reserved for special occasion treats”. It is not clear if this commitment in resorts only applies to Disney-branded products, or if it will also extend to the sale of food and beverages made by other companies, such as popular soft drinks.


What do the nutrition guidelines say?

The Disney nutrition guidelines say that food and drink should:

  • “contribute to the nutritious diet” by promoting the consumption of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean protein (termed “approved food groups”)
  • encourage appropriate portion sizes for children based on their reduced need for calories
  • limit nutrients such as sodium, added sugar, saturated fats and trans fats

The guidelines go on to set out detailed criteria for the levels of fat and different types of meals and food items, such as  breakfasts, side dishes, nuggets, meatballs, sausages, hotdogs, cheese and yoghurt. They specify the amount of calories, saturated fat, sugar, sodium and added trans fats each item should contain, as well as the “approved food groups”. For example, nuggets and meatballs that provide any added trans fat, or more than any of the following would not be advertised:

  • 250 calories
  • 1.1g of saturated fat
  • 2.5 g of sugar per 100 calories
  • 480 mg of sodium

The guidelines also stipulate limits for entire meals, so that they can’t simply be made up of items that would combine to provide excessive levels of calories, fat or salt.


What effect will this have?

The move is intended to ban advertising of high-fat, high-salt, high-sugar food aimed at children, and to promote more nutritious foods in all Disney’s US media outlets such as their television channels and websites. Disney says it is the latest move in its partnership with parents to “inspire kids to lead healthier lifestyles” and to “support better choices for families”.

Many newspapers reported that the move is aimed at tackling obesity among US children, although how far it will be able to address this problem is uncertain.


Will this affect the UK?

The initiative applies to Disney’s US media outlets and its nutritional standards are based on US national guidelines. Whether the ban might extend to Disney’s UK ventures, now or in the future, is unclear. However, Disney-branded food products sold in UK supermarkets do include a “healthy food range” for children.


Is anything similar being done in the UK to promote healthy lifestyles to children?

In the UK there are some regulations banning the advertising of certain foods during children's TV programming, as set out by the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA). These state that food or drink products that are high in fat, salt or sugar (according to Food Standards Agency definitions) should not be marketed towards children using licensed characters, such as famous cartoon characters. The ASA regulations also prohibit food adverts that exert peer pressure on children or encourage them to pester their parents. Oddly though, the regulations do not stop food manufacturers from creating characters to specifically advertise brands.

Some campaigners would like to like to see the ban during children’s programmes extended to “family” programming and also to the internet, where regulation on food advertising aimed at children is regarded as weaker. In the UK there is nothing that matches the detailed nutritional criteria for specific foods that Disney has set out in the US.

In England, there is the Public Health Responsibility Deal - a government initiative to improve public health by working with corporations and organisations that have influence over food, alcohol, physical activity and health in the workplace. Around 20 big food and drink companies have pledged to encourage customers to eat and drink fewer calories through measures such as reviewing portion sizes and providing nutritional information. This is intended to help cut a total of 5 billion calories from the population’s daily diet.

Change4Life is an NHS initiative aimed at encouraging adults, children and families to eat healthier foods and adopt healthier lifestyles.

Links To The Headlines

Disney to ban junk food advertising on its TV channels. The Daily Telegraph, June 5 2012

Media giant Walt Disney to ban junk food ads. BBC News, June 6 2012

Minnie size me: Disney bans junk-food ads for kids – with a little help from Michelle. The Independent, June 5 2012

It's a smaller-portioned world after all! Disney clamps down on junk food ads aimed at children in bid to curb obesity epidemic (and gets a fan in Michelle Obama). Daily Mail, June 5 2012

Michelle Obama hails Disney Channel move to shun sugar-coated advertising. The Guardian, June 5 2012

Seniors With Asthma Do Worse If Obese PDF Print E-mail
Title: Seniors With Asthma Do Worse If Obese
Category: Health News
Created: 6/5/2012 4:05:00 PM
Last Editorial Review: 6/6/2012 12:00:00 AM
Exercise questioned as depression treatment PDF Print E-mail

“Exercise doesn't help depression,” according to The Guardian. The paper said that patients advised to exercise fare no better than those who receive only standard care.

Exercise is among the treatments for depression currently recommended by the NHS, with many patients “prescribed” a course of physical activity as an alternative to antidepressant medication or therapy. Despite what several headlines have suggested, new research has not re-examined the effect of exercise on depression, but instead looked at whether giving depressed patients additional support to encourage exercise proved beneficial. During the research, 361 adults with depression were randomly allocated to receive either standard treatment or standard treatment with additional encouragement and advice on exercise. Standard treatment can include medication, therapy and physical activity. This means that all participants could take up prescribed exercise, but some had greater encouragement to do so.

The research found that encouraging activity increased physical activity levels but did not reduce depressive symptoms more than standard care alone. This is a useful finding for NHS staff wishing to know the best way to help patients with depression. However, given that the study did not test the general effect of exercise, the results do not support the view that exercise is “useless” for treating depression, as some news sources have suggested.

Exercise has a host of benefits for physical and mental health, which may help patients with depression in ways other than reducing their immediate depressive symptoms. These include reducing the risks of other diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.


Where did the story come from?

The study was carried out by researchers from the Universities of Bristol and Exeter, and the Peninsula Medical School. It was funded by the Department of Health as part of the National Institute for Health Research’s Health Technology Assessment programme.

The study was published in the peer-reviewed British Medical Journal.

Media reports of this story were slightly misleading, and may have given the impression that the researchers specifically tested the effect of exercise. This was not the case, as the research compared two groups of people who were offered the same range of treatments, but with one group receiving additional support and advice designed to encourage exercise. This meant that all participants had access to exercise-based treatments, but some received some additional encouragement.

The Metro newspaper went too far in saying that the study showed exercise “had no positive benefits on mental health”. The study in question looked at the effect of one particular exercise intervention programme on depression symptoms, so did not directly address other mental health problems or other exercise programmes.


What kind of research was this?

This UK-based multi-centre randomised control trial (RCT) looked at whether a specific exercise support programme helped reduce symptoms of depression in adults more than standard care alone. The study was “pragmatic” in nature, which means it tested interventions in a real-world setting rather than in the highly artificial environment of many trials. For example, patients were prescribed the most appropriate form of treatment from a range currently used in clinical practice, rather than a set treatment that might not have been ideal for them. As such, the study was well designed to assess how the exercise programme would work in reality.

The authors say previous evidence suggests that exercise is beneficial for people with depression, but that this evidence has come from small, less well-designed studies using interventions that may not be practical for use by the NHS. Therefore, this latest research aimed to investigate whether depression symptoms could be reduced by an activity programme that could be practically implemented by the NHS if deemed effective.

This type of study is one of the most effective at demonstrating whether a particular health programme, or “intervention”, has a measurable benefit in patients.


What did the research involve?

The researchers recruited 361 patients, aged 18 to 69 years old, who had recently been diagnosed with depression by their GP. Participants were randomly divided into two groups, who received either usual care methods from their GP or usual care plus a physical activity intervention.

Participants were recruited if they were not taking antidepressant medication at the time of initial diagnosis or if they had been prescribed antidepressants but had not taken these for at least four weeks before their diagnosis. Patients with depression who had failed to respond previously to antidepressants were excluded from the study, as were people aged 70 or over.

Participants in both groups were asked to continue to follow the healthcare advice of their GP for their depression. This was classed as “usual care” by the researchers. Both groups were, therefore, free to access any treatment usually available in primary care, including antidepressants, counselling, referral to “exercise on prescription” schemes or secondary care mental health services. However, those in the physical activity group were also offered up to three face-to-face sessions and 10 telephone calls with a trained physical activity facilitator over eight months. The intervention aimed to provide individually tailored support and encouragement to help participants engage in physical activity.

Depression was measured before enrolment and then at 4, 8 and 12 months after the intervention to measure any changes. Depression was initially diagnosed using standard, recognised assessments, including the “clinical interview schedule-revised” and the “Beck depression inventory”. Subsequent changes in depression symptoms were based on self-reported symptoms of depression, as assessed by the Beck inventory score.

During a trial, researchers should aim to conceal, if possible, which treatments participants receive. This is known as “bliding” and avoids the risk of bias from participants knowing which treatment they are getting. This study was a “single blinded” RCT as treatment allocation was concealed from the study researchers. It was not feasible to blind the participants to which group they’d been allocated to.

The analysis of this study was appropriate and based on an “intention to treat principle”. This means that everyone who was allocated to a group was included in the final analysis, irrespective of whether they followed the intervention or dropped out. This is good way of analysing the “real world” effects of an intervention.


What were the basic results?

At month four, there were no statistically significant improvements in mood among participants encouraged to exercise compared to those in the usual care group. Similarly, there was no evidence that the intervention group had significantly improved mood at the twelve-month follow-up compared to those receiving usual care only.

There was no evidence that the exercise intervention led to a statistically significant reduction in the use of antidepressants compared to usual care.

Using data from all three follow up points combined (4 months, 9 months and 12 months), the participants in the intervention group reported significantly more physical activity during the follow-up period than those in the usual care group, which was maintained at twelve months. This suggested the activity-support intervention was successful at increasing activity levels. Importantly, the participants stuck with the intervention well, and completed on average 7.2 sessions with their exercise advisor. By four months, 102 (56%) participants had at least five contacts with the advisors.


How did the researchers interpret the results?

The researchers concluded that adding an intervention to usual care which encouraged physical activity did not reduce symptoms of depression or the use of antidepressants compared to usual care alone, despite the exercise intervention significantly increasing physical activity levels.



This well-designed randomised control study provides strong evidence that adding an exercise-promoting support programme to standard care did not significantly reduce symptoms of depression compared to standard care alone.

While this study has many strengths, including its large size and randomised design, it is important to bear in mind its limitations.

This study assessed just one type of exercise intervention that involved facilitating greater activity levels. Therefore, this study does not tell us whether other types of support or exercise programme may have a positive effect on depression. Consequently, the study’s findings do not mean that no exercise interventions can reduce symptoms of depression, especially as there is some evidence from systematic reviews that certain types of exercise intervention may be therapeutic.

Also, there are other benefits of exercise beyond those related to mental health. The Daily Mail quoted an expert as saying: “It is important to note that increased physical activity is beneficial for people with other medical conditions such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease and, of course, these conditions can affect people with depression.”  The trial did not assess whether exercise prevents depression.

Exercise has a host of benefits for physical and mental health that may help patients with depression in ways other than reducing their immediate symptoms. However, the finding that this exercise support intervention doesn’t seem to reduce depressive symptoms is very useful to NHS staff wishing to know what interventions may help patients with this condition.

Analysis by Bazian

Links To The Headlines

Exercise 'fails to lift clinical depression'. The Daily Telegraph, June 6 2102

Exercise 'no help for depression'. BBC News, June 6 2102

Exercise doesn't help depression, study concludes. The Guardian, June 6 2102

Young cannabis users 'do not realise the huge danger to their health'. Metro, June 6 2102

Links To Science

Chalder M, Wiles NJ, Campbell J et al. Facilitated physical activity as a treatment for depressed adults: randomised controlled trial. BMJ 2012; 344

Some Genes Seem to Raise Risk of Obesity: Study PDF Print E-mail
Title: Some Genes Seem to Raise Risk of Obesity: Study
Category: Health News
Created: 6/4/2012 6:06:00 PM
Last Editorial Review: 6/5/2012 12:00:00 AM
63-stone teen Georgia Davis to be treated at Swansea's Morriston Hospital ... - This is South Wales PDF Print E-mail

Daily Mail

63-stone teen Georgia Davis to be treated at Swansea's Morriston Hospital ...
This is South Wales
A WELSH girl dubbed Britain's fattest teenager is checking into a Swansea obesity clinic in her battle with the bulge. Georgia Davis, who had to be cut out of her house and rushed to hospital a week ago, has already lost a shock three stone in just 10 ...
Georgia sneaked in food ordered onlineThe Sun
Teenage girl who had to be cut out of her house loses three stone in a WEEKDaily Mail
Giant teen Georgia Davies ordered seven kebabs at a time, takeaway driver saysWalesOnline
Mirror.co.uk -India.Com Health
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