Study Says Cartoon Characters Affect Kids’ Food Choices

Your child probably has a favorite cartoon they take up on. Before letting them just watch just about anything, all parents must read this. The cartoons they are watching is subtly affecting their food choices.

According to a study conducted by the Yale University, putting an image of cartoons characters like Dora the Explorer, Shrek, Elsa and Anna etc. on packaged children snack have a strong influence on the children’s perception of how the food tastes.

A number of retailers use this strategy to convince children to consuming their products. And no doubt it is effective. However, the study says that these characters promote unhealthy food.

The study and tested the perceptions of 40 pre-school and Grade-1 children. They were to select between gummy fruit snacks, carrots, and graham crackers. These products were presented in plain packaging and the packaging containing the image of a cartoon character. Children consistently preferred the product packaged in the cartoon character they identified.

It cuts both ways

Using a licensed character to get children to eat healthier foods has been very helpful. The character of Elmo from Sesame Street stamped on packages of broccoli got the attention of plenty of kids. When kids were offered to choose between a bar of chocolate and a package of broccoli without the Emo image, 78% of them chose the chocolate bar. But once Elmo was added to the packaging, half of the children chose veggies over the chocolate bar.

Shrek is a spokesman for the campaigns of the U.S Department of Health and Human Services. It’s no doubt one of the beloved cartoon characters among children. Its image is being used in multiple marketing efforts sending confusing and mixed messages. However, it’s also used by M&Ms, McDonalds’ and Cheetos.

The inconsistencies in which licensed characters are associated with both healthy and unhealthy foods send mixed messages to children. The researchers from Yale suggest that the use of licensed characters on the packaging of junk food must be restricted if we really want to promote healthy eating habits in our children. But’s not the only issue.

Plump characters and body image

A study conducted by Colorado State University revealed that children perceive cartoon characters as being overweighed. Exposure to these characters has an influence on their eating. The findings of this study were published by the Journal of Consumer Psychology. 300 children between 6- to 14-years-old were exposed to different shaped characters prior to making food choices. The kids who were exposed to overweight characters had the tendency to eat almost twice as much food as the kids who were exposed to healthier looking characters or no characters at all.

The author of the study said they were not sure if kids would be aware of the body weight norms but surprisingly they were aware of it.

A Pediatric Dietitian, Eve Reed, says children as young as preschoolers can differentiate other children by their weight. It’s no surprise since there is so much talk about body image in families as well as social media.

Children know how much exactly to eat as per how hungry they are. However, screens make it difficult to keep track of when they had enough to eat. Unfortunately, parents serve food to their kids while they are watching TV or have a tablet in their hands.

Not all is lost when kids are watching their favorite TV shows. There is still a lot more to gain from watching episodes of Sesame Street or other cartoons. Researchers are not suggesting that we should permanently switch the TV off. They simply want parents to counteract the unhealthy influence and it’s not that hard.

How to manifest healthy eating?

Parents and teachers can be powerful role models for kids in demonstrating what healthy eating is. When it comes to snacks and meals, mums and dads need to be on the same team. A great way to improve the healthy eating knowledge is to involve the kids in cooking healthy family meal.

Likewise, activating children’s health knowledge is effective in limiting unhealthy food choices. If they are already aware of how many cookies they are supposed to eat, watching an overweight character wouldn’t affect their eating habits.

In conclusion, not only do we need to teach our kids about healthy choices, we need to make sure they are thinking about it when they’re making those choices. Not to forget, you need to make sure your kid’s are watching cartoons that promote healthy eating habits and foster good behavior.