Junk Food Shills: Cartoon Characters Appeal to Young Kids

Junk food with cartoon characters on the packaging tastes better in the minds of young children, according to a new survey.

Kids think junk food with cartoon characters on the packaging taste better, a new study found.

Researchers at Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity tested 40 children ages 4 to 6 and found that the majority preferred the taste of snacks with popular cartoon characters, like Dora the Explorer, Shrek and Scooby- Doo.

The children were given three identical choices of graham crackers, gummy fruit snacks, and carrots. One package had a cartoon character on the front, the other was plain. The young participants were then asked which one they thought would taste better. More than two thirds of the children in the study believed the snack with the cartoon character would taste best.

After testing both snacks, the children were asked whether they tasted the same or one tasted better than the other. About half the kids said the foods with the characters tasted better.

The study, published in the current issue of Pediatrics, supports what nutrition experts have argued for years, namely that popular cartoon characters and mascots should not be used when marketing food to kids. They note that the advertising approach is especially detrimental given the obesity epidemic where one third of children and teenagers in the U.S. are either overweight or obese.

“This shows how powerful and influential these characters can be,” Yale researcher Christina Roberto, the study’s lead author, told USA Today.

Retailers spend more than $1.6 billion yearly to grab the attention picky eaters and their parents, according to a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report. While some cartoon characters are on healthy foods like fruit and vegetables, most are pushing junk food and sugary snacks, Roberto says, noting that parents need to stay vigilant in making smart food choices for their kids.

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