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Kids have a special affinity for cartoon faces and scientists have found that the latter can be used successfully to entice the kids to eat veggies and fruits. The kids are fascinated by them and end up eating some healthy food which they normally detest.

Ever noticed how children flock to buy those burgers just because they are getting a toy gift free along with it? Or how they pester you to buy a totally useless mug just because it has the face of their favorite cartoon character plastered on it? Scientists tell us that we should be more observant and learn a lesson from this. You’d be wondering what can be possibly learnt from these day to day kid’s hankerings? Well, a lot!


Observing this behavior of kids teaches us that children can be swayed to buy things with the help of cartoon characters. This is something that was discovered quite some time ago by the people from fast food industry. No wonder, they resort to flashy advertising, bright packaging and giving away free gifts. And more often than not, they use cartoon characters to lure the kids towards their products.

In a recent study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, researchers found that slapping cartoon characters on veggies and fruits can make them more appeasing to children and they can be tempted to eat them instead of munching on junk food.

For the study, David Just, co-director of the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs in Ithaca, New York, along with his colleagues enrolled 208 kids from suburban and rural schools. All the participating children were between eight and eleven years of age. The children were offered to choose an apple or a cookie or both, apart from their normal meal during lunch, for a period of one week.

On the first and the last day of the study, both the apple and the cookie were offered without any sticker. The scientists slapped cartoon stickers on the cookie or one day while on the other day, the apples were given with an Elmo sticker. On another day, the apple had an Elmo sticker whereas the cookie had a sticker of an unknown character. The choice of each child on each day was noted down.

The researchers noticed that when there were no stickers on either the cookie or the apple, 91% of the children preferred to have the cookie. Putting a sticker on the cookie did not make much difference as most of the children already knew that a cookie tastes good and therefore, opted for it. However, what was the most amazing part of this apple and cookie study was that when the apples had an Elmo sticker on it, 37% of the children opted for it instead of the cookie. The presence of a sticker with an unknown character made no difference to the number of children opting for an apple. The researchers concluded that slapping an Elmo sticker on the apple led children to nearly double their apple choice compared to the first day of the study when neither the cookie nor the apple was branded.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • “Cartoon stickers may sway kids' food choices”, by Genevra Pittman, published in the August 21, 2012 issue of Reuters Health, accessed on September 1, 2012.
  • “Can Branding Improve School Lunches?” by Brian Wansink, et al, published online August 20, 2012 in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, accessed on September 1, 2012.
  • “Children and Healthy Eating: A systematic review of barriers and facilitators”, by Thomas J, et al, published in 2003, accessed on September 1, 2012.
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