I want to eat Scooby-Doo!

A new study from Yale University published in the journal Pediatrics has found that popular cartoon and other characters can influence children’s food choices, and even preference, for the taste of a food.  According to thesd research, “children significantly prefer the taste of junk foods branded with licensed cartoon characters on the packaging, compared with the same foods without characters.”

Joan Salge Blake, Clinical Associate Professor of Nutrition at BU’s Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, says these findings support recent moves to limit or restrict the use of licensed characters on children’s snacks:

“In this study involving 40 children, ages 4 to 6 years old, researchers asked each child to taste, and then rate, identical packages of pairs of graham crackers, gummy fruit snacks, and carrots.  The only difference between the pairs of snack items was that one of packages had a sticker of a licensed character stuck on the front of the label.  The results showed that the kiddies significantly preferred the snack with the cartoon character on the label, as compared to the same food without the sticker.   The stickers also had an influence over the perceived taste of the food, as the children were significantly more likely to rate the taste of the graham crackers and gummy fruit snacks with the licensed character higher than the exact same, paired equivalent.”

“Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that these influential licensed characters should be restricted on unhealthy junk foods marketed to kids.”

“Ironically, last month, the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity made a similar suggestion in their Report to the President. The Task Force recommended that all media companies limit the licensing of these child-friendly characters to only healthy foods and beverages.”

“Could licensed characters help improve children’s diets?  We only have to look to the very successful, Got Milk? Campaign to see how Hollywood influences consumer choices.  When the dairy industry noted a decline in milk consumption among Americans in the 1990’s, they painted milk mustaches on celebrities and milk sales increased.  If licensed characters were removed from the less healthy foods, and only plastered on Mother Nature’s finest in the produce aisle, perhaps kiddies would be screaming for Pooh Bear bananas.  It would be music to America’s ears.  It’s worth a shot as long as the consumer doesn’t have to pay extra for the sticker.”

Contact: Joan Salge Blake, 617-353-7470, salge@bu.edu

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