By: Rose Snipes
If you have ever walked through a grocery store and seen a young child, you probably witnessed them begging for a snack with the familiar face of a cartoon characters on it. Although there have been the occasional character on healthy foods, they are more targeted toward junk foods like sugary cereals and candy. “Marketers know cartoon characters sell food products”, that’s why the use them,” says Marion Nestle, Ph.D., a professor of nutrition and food studies.
A new study conducted by a doctoral student at Yale, Christina Roberto, and colleagues presented 40 kids, ages four to six with paired samples of crackers, gummy fruit snacks, and baby carrots. Each pair was exactly the same, except one of each had a sticker of Sponge Bob Square Pants, Dora, or Scooby Doo, while the other had no sticker at all. Between fifty and fifty-five percent of the kids said the food with the stickers tasted better than the food without the sticker (depending on the food). And seventy-three percent and eighty-five percent selected the food with the sticker as the one they would prefer to eat. “The study really nails it down”, Nestle says, “Now we have evidence for asking–no, requiring—food marketers to stop using cartoons to market junk foods to kids.”
Food and drink companies spend over $1.6 billion each year to get children’s attention. Thirteen percent of the money is used on character licensing and other promotion efforts. Although the advertisements have declined in the last few years, they are still attracting children in the super markets and they keep them right at eyes level. Parents think that if they buy the healthy character labeled food products, their child will have a higher chance of eating them, but other studies have shown that this is not the case. The kid may think a vegetable is always a vegetable, or they are not used to the character on the package. “Young children, particularly under the age of seven or eight, really don’t understand the persuasive intent of marketing”, Thomas Robinson, a professor of health says, “That seems really unfair, and something we should protect children from, just like we protects them from other things we think are beyond their cognitive ability, like pornography.”