From the Influencers

Chester Cheetah vs. Colby Carrot: Making Healthy Foods Fun for Kids

July 06, 2016

It’s no secret that marketing is a powerful tool in getting consumers to buy products, especially when it comes to younger children. Food advertising is no different. Anyone who has been in a grocery store or owns a TV will likely recognize Chester the Cheetah, the cartoon associated with Cheetos, who makes kids beg their parents for the snack. Similarly, other cartoon characters like Spongebob Squarepants and Dora the Explorer are used to attract children to certain foods. It’s not uncommon to see a cartoon character on a box of macaroni and cheese, liter of soda or gallon of ice cream. Unfortunately, these characters are never used to lure kids to healthy snacks like fruits and vegetables.

A study published on July 5 in the Journal of Pediatrics found that marketing undoubtedly influences children. With that in mind, the research team set out to use the power of marketing for good to get school aged kids interested in healthy choices over junk food. For the study, they put up banners around cafeteria salad bars in 10 urban elementary schools. The banners featured cartoon vegetables dressed up as superheroes, known as “Super Sprowtz.” Some main characters include Colby Carrot, whose eyes shoot orange laser beams, Erica Eggplant, the brainy one, and Brian Broccoli, who has big muscles. Videos showcasing the characters were also shown on the schools’ TVs.

After four weeks, it was found that schools that used only banners saw an increase in the number of students choosing vegetables as their side with lunch, from less than 13 percent to 24 percent. Schools that used both banners and videos had even better results, with 34 percent of students choosing to visit the salad bar, a significant increase from the previous 10 percent. The videos alone did not make much of an impact on students because the kids were not confronted with the characters at the salad bar, just out in the cafeteria.

The common theme here, with both healthy and junk foods, is that cartoon characters are powerful marketing tools. They can be used effectively to promote either healthy or unhealthy eating habits. During the day, these schools have their kids covered by using “Super Sprowtz” to encourage healthy eating during lunchtime. However, once kids go home they are exposed to an entirely different environment. TV advertisements rarely market healthy foods to children; instead, junk food companies target youngsters with footage of ice cream, chips and cookies.

Parents can help negate these effects by eating healthy alongside their children. If kids see their parents eating vegetables, they may want the same thing. Similarly, researchers suggest letting kids help prepare vegetables and fruits for dinner; they will feel proud of what they’ve done, and will want to eat what they put together. The final recommendation is to start a garden with kids. If they grow the healthy foods themselves, they will be more interested in eating it. Putting these practices into place, combined with encouraged healthy eating at school, should help kids to make better choices for their diets. 

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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