Times when children are in hospital are some of the most upsetting and stressful for everyone involved. Now Disney has announced it will create a new programme for children’s hospitals to help ease this pressure and make the hospital experience less distressing.
The $100m initiative is part of Disney’s Team of Heroes community outreach and philanthropy programme and will start at the Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, Texas.
Disney has a long association with hospitals going right back to Walt, but this new programme will be more comprehensive and wide-ranging.
Disney is sending in the Imagineers to create a kid-friendly atmosphere and will be using technology to bring characters to life.
RFID will enable patients to customise their hospital stay by unlocking special elements, so their favourite characters surround them for the duration of their time in hospital – enchanted artwork will come alive and interactive wall murals will tell Disney stories.
At the softer end of the experience, children will be able to choose bed linen and gowns, in-room entertainment and ‘play carts’ featuring their favourite characters – all with the aim of reducing fear, relaxing them and raising their spirits.
Finally, in-room, themed pop-up theatres will make just-released movies available specially for kids and parents.
Hospital design is at the forefront of research into ways in which the environment can aid healing, shorten hospital stays and speed recovery, so this initiative by Disney is very timely. There’s also clear evidence that mental state has a significant impact on recovery and wellbeing and we hope a research project will run alongside this initiative to assess the impact of both environmental and psychological interventions on the health of children. That way, lessons can be shared elsewhere, creating a great legacy for Disney.
American children are among the most stressed and medicated on the planet, consuming up to 95 per cent of the world’s Ritalin, meaning many are on strong mood-altering drugs from a very young age and experiencing low levels of mental and physical wellbeing.
We know that up to 90 per cent of disease is epigenetic and only 10 per cent is genetic – so much is preventable.
We would like to see Disney back up its work in the hospital sector with a new focus on prevention to stop kids getting sick in the first place.
With its reach and influence, the company could be a huge force for good in teaching children self-care through its many channels and touch points.
In addition, a new focus on wellbeing in its theme parks would help to keep them out of hospital, leaving those resources for children for whom disease in unavoidable.
In addition to educating, there are many things Disney can do in its attractions – number one, improving the food, with more healthy choices and, dare I say, reducing the sale of soft drinks, which cause or exacerbate a range of serious diseases.
Let’s hope this focus by Disney on kids’ health and wellbeing can embrace prevention as well as cure.