Young minds are impressionable. Whether it’s what they pick up from their parents (the unfortunate swear word here and there), or habits like not picking up after themselves (dads, are you listening?), children are susceptible to outside influences no matter how well you bring them up. And when you consider cartoons, you’d think they’re harmless and just a good way to teach them values. But, as with everything else, there is a drawback.
Did you know that children consume more high-calorie food such as cookies and candy after observing egg-shaped cartoon characters that they perceive to be overweight? According to a study, children tend to perceive ovoid, or egg-shaped, characters as overweight even though the creatures are imaginary, and seeing them can influence children to eat more unhealthy food, found the study. “They have a tendency to eat almost twice as much indulgent food as kids who are exposed to perceived healthier-looking cartoon characters or no characters at all,” said lead author of the study Margaret Campbell, marketing professor at the University of Colorado Boulder in the US.
The results of the study, published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, said that kids are responsive to the apparent body weight of cartoon characters like the aptly named Grimace, a rotund, milkshake-loving creature created by McDonald’s in the 1970s. The findings, gathered from more than 300 participants in three age groups averaging eight, 12 and 13 years, have implications for marketers as well as parents navigating a world where children encounter cartoon characters in a variety of media, from books and graphic novels to TV shows, video games, movies and more.
The inclination to eat more junk food was curtailed, however, when kids in the study first had the opportunity to summon their previously learned health knowledge. “This is key information we should continue to explore. Kids do not necessarily draw upon previous knowledge when they are making decisions. But perhaps if we are able to help trigger their health knowledge with a quiz just as they are about to select lunch at school, for instance, they will choose the more nutritious foods,” Campbell said.
For what it’s worth, we think taking the right precautions will probably help your kids, and not have them give up their cartoons. If they want popcorn, give them an apple. If they’re craving chips, carrots should do just fine. It’s about maintaining a balance, don’t you think?