Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity has published a study purportedly showing that children “significantly preferred” snack foods branded with popular cartoon characters. Christina Roberto, et al., “Influence of Licensed Characters on Children’s Taste and Snack Preferences,” Pediatrics, June 2010. Researchers apparently asked 40 children between 4 and 6 years old to sample three identical pairs of graham crackers, gummy fruit snacks and carrots “presented either with or without popular cartoon characters on the package.” The children described whether the two items in each pair tasted the same or whether one tasted better, and then selected “which of the food items they would prefer to eat for a snack.”
The results purportedly indicated that participants not only preferred the taste of the branded foods, but that the majority “selected the food item with a licensed character on it for their snack.” The influence of cartoon characters also appeared “weaker for carrots than for gummy fruit snacks and graham crackers.” As the study concludes, “Branding food packages with licensed characters substantially influences young children’s taste preferences and snack selection, and does so most strongly for energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods.”
Casting doubt on the effectiveness of branding healthy foods with cartoons, the study authors have interpreted their findings as proof “that licensed characters can influence children’s eating habits negatively by increasing positive taste perceptions and preferences for junk food.” The authors have thus suggested “that the use of licensed characters to advertise junk food to children should be restricted,” and that these restrictions should extend to older youth as well.