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Cartoon characters manipulate how kids make food choices

Saturday, March 19, 2011 by: Elizabeth Walling
Tags: food marketing, children, health news

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(NewsTarget) A recent University of Pennsylvania study confirms what most parents already know: children are more likely to choose and even enjoy eating cereal if there is a licensed cartoon character on the box. More interesting is the news that if there are no cartoon characters on the box, kids are more likely to choose cereal which is labeled as healthy.

Keri Gans, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, says, "This tells us what we've probably already guessed: that young children are going to be more likely to enjoy their cereal if it has one of their favorite characters on it."

Researchers were surprised that children in the study were more likely to avoid cereal with the word sugar in the title. Matt Lapierre, one author from the study, notes that this could be because children are growing up today with a negative association with sugar. However, cereal manufacturers are responding to this issue by removing the word sugar from their labels and replacing it with words like honey or golden--even though the cereals may contain the exact amount of sugar as they did under the previous label.

The researchers wrote: "We believe there are two potential explanations for this finding. The first is that from a young age, children are commonly told that sugary foods are bad and should be avoided. As such it is possible that children were reacting less enthusiastically to the name...because of these negatives associations. Furthermore, we noted in our survey of cereals currently marketed to children that although many cereals use names that imply a sweet taste, none included the word sugar in the title."

The children seemed to have the right motivation--to choose the healthier cereal--but this was easily overridden when their favorite movie characters showed up on the box. This is obviously something food manufacturers use to their advantage.

So what can parents do? One suggestion is to simply make children aware of how advertising can influence their decisions. While this isn`t always enough, it plants a seed that will later empower children to understand how to make informed decisions later in life. Keeping a variety of healthy, unprocessed foods is also important for making sure kids have plenty of other choices available to them. Children who eat plenty of balanced, whole foods are more likely to avoid serious cravings for junk food.

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About the author

Elizabeth Walling is a freelance writer specializing in health and family nutrition. She is a strong believer in natural living as a way to improve health and prevent modern disease. She enjoys thinking outside of the box and challenging common myths about health and wellness. You can visit her blog to learn more:

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