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Cartoon Characters Sell Kids on Unhealthy Foods
Date:6/21/2010

Using likes of Shrek and Dora to market treats should be banned, researcher says

MONDAY, June 21 (HealthDay News) -- Popular cartoon characters are influencing the taste preferences of very young children, and not in a positive way, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that the branding of American food product packaging with characters such as Dora the Explorer drives preschoolers to choose higher-calorie, less healthful foods over more nutritious options.

"The bottom line is that when kids are presented with a choice of graham crackers, fruit snacks or carrots, and the only difference is that one package has a licensed character on it, they actually think that the food with the character tastes better," said study author Christina Roberto, a doctoral student working at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University in New Haven, Conn.

The findings, reported online June 21 in Pediatrics, reflect on the food preferences of 4- to 6-year-old boys and girls who found foods tastier when the packaging bore the likenesses of beloved TV and movie characters.

The authors looked at 40 preschoolers -- described as "ethnically diverse" -- attending four child-care centers in New Haven. Over the course of two visits, the team presented the children with samples from three different food types: low-nutrient/low-energy graham crackers; low-nutrient/high-energy gummy fruit snacks; and high-nutrient/low-energy baby carrots.

All the foods were packaged with the same color, shape and design, with one brandless and one branded example from each food category. Branded versions bore the likenesses of eminently recognizable cartoon characters: either Scooby Doo, Dora or Shrek.

By the study's conclusion, all the children had sampled each type of food, both with and without character branding.

Overall, the children perceived foods that had character branding as being ta
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