Kids Like Cartoon-Branded Snacks Better
Study Shows Children Find Foods Taste Better if the Packages Feature Popular Cartoon Characters
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The children were asked to taste each identical sample and tell the investigator if the two samples tasted the same or, if not, which one tasted better. They were also asked if the loved the food, liked it, disliked it, or hated it.
The experiment was conducted three times with each child: once with graham cracker sticks, once with gummy fruit-flavored snacks, and once with organic baby carrots.
As expected, more children said they preferred the taste of the graham crackers and gummies when the packages bore the likeness of one of the cartoon characters. More kids also said they preferred the taste of the cartoon-branded carrots, but the effect was weaker and failed to reach statistical significance.
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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.