Want to Influence Kids' Food Choices? Just Add Cartoon Characters

Kids may be learning to eat healthier at school and at home, but throw in some cartoon characters (especially licensed ones they're already familiar with), and all bets are off.

A recent study at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School of Communications offered young kids (ages 4-6) their choice of "Healthy Bits" or "Sugar Bits" cereal, with and without cartoon penguins on the box, and asked them to rate them. With the "healthy" cereal, the presence or absence of the penguins didn't affect their rating; in fact, they rated both versions of the "healthy" higher than the "sugary." Go nutrition education! But, add those cartoon penguins to the "Sugar Bits" box, and the sugary cereal rated just as well as the healthy.

There's already precedent for this finding. A 2010 study from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University showed “a causal relationship between licensed characters on food packaging and children’s snack and taste preferences.” In the study, young children tasted three types of foods: graham crackers, gummy fruit snacks, and carrots. The result? Kids like the stuff better when a licensed cartoon character appeared on the package. (Though the result was less spectacular for the carrots.)

This is not only important information for us as parents, but exploring with students the influence of images, framing and advertising (especially when most of us think we're not influenced by advertising) on our choices and perceptions, is a great opportunity for humane educators. (Check out activities such as our Analyzing Advertising for ideas.)

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of navets via Creative Commons.

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3 comment for "Want to Influence Kids' Food Choices? Just Add Cartoon Characters"

  1. It is every parent’s nightmare: going to the grocery store with your kids and listening to them whine about how they want this sugary cereal and that sweet yogurt. And by the time you reach the check out Food Marketing Services counter to pay for the cookies and soda your kids bullied you into putting into the cart, you feel again like an irresponsible parent who caved in to the demands of a five year old.