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Processed food

Cartoon characters alter kids' perception of taste of processed food

Wednesday, October 20, 2010 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Tags: processed food, cartoon characters, health news

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(NaturalNews) Children actually prefer the taste of food that carries a cartoon character on the packaging, a new study from Yale University has found.

"The food industry spends $1.6 billion on youth-targeted marketing and, of that, 13 percent is dedicated to character licensing and cross-promoting," researcher Christina Roberto said. "For the most part, these foods are of poor nutritional quality."

Researchers recruited 40 children between the ages of four and six from the New Haven, Conn. area to take part in taste tests of baby carrots, graham crackers and gummy fruits. In each case, the test was actually between two identical products, one of them packaged either in a plain wrapper or in a wrapper decorated with a sticker featuring Dora the Explorer, Scooby Doo or Shrek.

Ninety percent of all participants were able to correctly identify Dora the Explorer, 77 percent could identify Scooby Doo and 60 percent could identify Shrek.

When allowed to choose their own snacks, 85 percent of children chose the cartoon-labeled graham crackers and gummy snacks over the plain-labeled ones. Fifty-five percent said that the cartoon-labeled graham crackers tasted better than the plain-labeled ones, and 52 percent said that the cartoon-labeled gummy fruits tasted better than their plan-labeled counterparts. For carrots, however, equal numbers of children preferred the taste of the plain- and cartoon-labeled varieties.

The researchers were surprised that cartoons had so little effect on children's taste preferences for carrots.

"Overall we expected to see more," Roberto said.

The study was published in the journal Pediatrics.

Based on their findings, the researchers concluded that "licensed characters on junk food packaging should be restricted."

"Parents can't do a whole lot, they have to go to the grocery store and they have to shop," Roberto said.

Dietitian Keith Thomas Ayoob of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, who has consulted with Disney on which theme park foods could be marketed with cartoon characters, disagreed with the call for such restrictions.

"It has been shown to be successful that kids would eat a bag of carrots if their favorite character is on it," Ayoob said. "It's a tool. I have a hard time thinking these characters should be restricted."

"[The study] does bring up the point that there is an influence of cartoon characters -- they're in business for a reason," he said. "Should it be restricted? No. That's what you have parents for."

But the study's findings might imply, Roberts suggested, that cartoon characters are more effective at marketing sugary than nutritious foods.

A potential compromise to the question could see cartoon marketing restricted only to certain types of food.

"In the U.K. there's an objective nutrition standard and a food has to meet that before it's marketed to kids during television programs," Roberto said.

American Dietetic Association spokesperson Jeannie Gazzaniga-Moloo agreed that while cartoon characters can theoretically be used to sell healthy foods, the practice should still be restricted.

"Certainly some of these character snack foods can have merit in a healthy diet, however more often than not they are low in nutrients and high in calories," she said.

She noted that when foods are marketed with cartoon characters on their packages, it can lead children to demand those foods and make it harder for parents to insist upon a healthy diet.

Ayoob proffered some advice for parents whose children throw tantrums to demand any unhealthy food, no matter how it is packaged: institute a firm rule that if a child throws a tantrum, they do not get what they want.

"Parents often say I don't want a fight," he said. "Tantrums make [parental] decision making easier. Once you have a tantrum, you never get it."

Sources for this story include: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/WellnessNews/ki....

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