Using Cartoons To Sway Kids’ Food Choices

By Amir Khan on August 24, 2012 6:52 AM EDT

Apple
Kids love cartoons, so a new initiative aims to use that love to sway their food choice, according to a new study (Photo: Creative Commons)

Kids love cartoons, so a new initiative aims to use that love to sway their food choice, according to a new study, published in the journal Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. Researchers found that kids are more likely to eat a healthy snack when it features a picture of one of their favorite characters.

When presented with a choice between a cookie and an apple, kids were more likely to choose the apple when it had a cartoon picture of a beloved character, such as Elmo, according to the study. Many fast food restaurants and candy packages use cartoon characters to influence kids, so why shouldn't fruits and vegetables, researchers said.

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"If we're trying to promote healthier foods, we need to be as smart as the companies that are selling the less-healthy foods," David Just, study researcher and co-director of the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Program, told Reuters. "The message should be: fight fire with fire."

Researchers offered more than 200 8-11 year olds the choice between a cookie, an apple or both alongside their normal lunch every day for a week. Some days, the cookies or the apples had cartoon stickers or other branding, other days they did not.

Researchers found that when the snacks had no branding, 91 percent of the students chose the cookies and less than a quarter chose the apple. When the apple had a cartoon Elmo sticker, 37 percent chose the apple.

The findings show that branding has a large effect on kids, and researchers said parents could use this to their advantage to try and create positive associations between their kids and fruits and vegetables.

"There are so many foods that are of poor nutritional quality and they are being marketed to children," Christina Roberto, a researcher from Harvard School of Public Health who studies food, told Reuters. "It's not a bad idea to create these positive associations, especially if you're struggling to get kids to eat healthy foods."

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