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Kids Like Cartoon-Branded Snacks Better

Study Shows Children Find Foods Taste Better if the Packages Feature Popular Cartoon Characters

SpongeBob Soybeans OK, Advocate Says

The Yale researchers say the findings confirm that branding food products with characters children recognize influences taste preferences, especially for high-calorie foods with little nutritional value.

They conclude that the use of licensed characters on such foods should be restricted, arguing that this would be more likely to improve the diets of children than using the familiar likenesses to sell healthy foods.

TV network Nickelodeon has licensed many of its most popular characters, including SpongeBob and Dora the Explorer, to several fruit and vegetable companies. In recent years their images have appeared on packages of fresh and frozen spinach, carrots, clementine oranges, and edamame (soybeans).

Margo Wootan, DSc, of the nutrition research and advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest, says she sees no problem with putting the familiar cartoon images on these foods and other healthy foods kids should be eating.

The problem, she says, is that advertising budgets for such foods are small compared to highly processed foods like gummy fruit snacks, which she calls candy marketed as fruit.

"If the fruit and vegetable industry had more money to market their foods to kids, I would be very happy," she says. "Junk foods are marketed in such sophisticated and persuasive ways, it is no surprise that these are the foods kids want to eat."

The food industry trade group Manufacturers Association did not respond to a request for comment on the study from WebMD in time for publishing.

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