It’s a fact that mothers everywhere have known for years – slap a picture of a cartoon character on a food and your child will eat more of it. Now there is proof. A recent study, commissioned by Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity gave 40 children, ages four to six, three identical pairs of snacks: graham crackers, gummy fruit and carrots. One package of each pairing was decorated with a cartoon character popular with the younger crowd – either Scooby Doo, Dora the Explorer or Shrek. After snacking, the children were asked which selection tasted better. Not surprisingly, more than half of the children chose the food with the character emblazoned on the packaging. In addition, more than two-thirds of the children indicated that they would choose the packaging with the character on it.
I know that in my own family we have found this to be true. As a test, I purchased two types of vanilla yogurt; one a tub of StoneyField Farms and one six pack of Yoplait four-ounce cups. The first time I offered yogurt as a snack, both of my daughters (ages six and seven) chose the Yoplait with the pictures of Dora the Explorer on the cups. The second time, I showed my daughters the sides of the container that indicated a lower sugar count in the Stonyfield yogurt – and they still chose the Dora cups.
The third morning, I refilled the empty cups with Stonyfield yogurt, and when the girls chose the Dora cups, they didn’t even notice that it was a different yogurt. The draw of the character was that strong.
I have seen cartoon characters on many products at the grocery store; occasionally on a package of string cheese, baby carrots or broccoli, but more often on cookies, crackers and ice cream treats. It’s difficult enough to get kids to eat healthy without the added pressure of the draw of a cartoon character. It’s time for food companies to stop marketing less-than-optimal foods to kids and be on the sides of parents instead of their own pocketbooks.