According to a USA Today Health article, kids think snacks taste better when popular cartoon characters such as Shrek and Dora the Explorer are plastered on the packages, a study shows.
Nutrition experts have long argued that such images shouldn’t be used to market junk food to kids, especially given the childhood obesity epidemic. About one-third of children and teens in the USA are either overweight or obese.
For the latest study, researchers at Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity gave 40 children, ages 4 to 6, three identical pairs of snacks: graham crackers, gummy fruit and carrots.
One package of each food had a cartoon character —Scooby-Doo, Dora the Explorer or Shrek — on the front; the other didn’t. Children were asked if the foods tasted the same or if one tasted better.
The findings, reported online today in the journal Pediatrics:
•More than two-thirds said they would choose the snack with the character on the package.
•About half of the kids said the foods tasted better from packages with the cartoon characters.
“This shows how powerful and influential these characters can be,” says Yale researcher Christina Roberto, the study’s lead author.
Although some cartoon characters are on healthful foods such as fruits and vegetables, the majority of characters are pushing junk foods, she says.
Parents face an uphill battle when they go to the supermarket with their children because kids are drawn to the characters on products, Roberto says.
Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, says companies have to stop marketing unhealthy foods to kids. “Parents are outgunned by the food industry, which has market research, cartoon characters and slick ads. We don’t have Shrek, SpongeBob and the Disney princesses to get our kids to eat the foods that we want them to eat,” she says.
“All we have is the role modeling of healthy eating and urging them to eat the right foods.”