Convincing kids to choose vegetables becomes easier when you deploy a team of animated characters to sell them the nutritious foods, new research has claimed.
‘Miki Mushroom’, ‘Zach Zucchini’ and ‘Suzie Sweet Pea’ appear to wield the kind of influence many parents only wish they had, researchers said.
Marketing vegetables in school lunchrooms using the Super Sprowtz – a team of fun-loving characters with super powers – as much as tripled the percentage of elementary school students choosing items from the salad bar, found researchers led by Andrew Hanks of The Ohio State University in the US.
“If we put the time and good resources into marketing healthy choices to kids, it can work,” said Hanks, an assistant professor of human sciences.
“These interventions don’t need to be costly and there is a great opportunity to improve nutrition, performance in school and behaviour as well,” Hanks said, referring to previous studies that have linked healthful diets to success in the classroom.
Marketing to children is controversial in some circles, but Hanks said this study illuminates its potential if done well and with the best interest of kids in mind.
“Marketing can have both positive and negative effects. But instead of avoiding it completely, we can harness the power of marketing to help us,” said Hanks, who conducted the study while he was at Cornell University in New York.
Researchers tested three interventions in 10 public elementary schools in urban New York State.
In some, they wrapped the bottom portion of the salad bar with a vinyl banner depicting the super veggies. In others, they played Super Sprowtz videos in the lunch room. And in others, they tried both tactics.
In schools with the salad bar banners, the researchers saw 24 per cent of kids taking vegetables from the salad bars, almost double what they had observed in the weeks leading up to the change.
In those schools that had characters on the salad bar and on video, veggie selection jumped from 10 per cent to almost 35 per cent. The researchers saw no significant improvement in schools with videos alone.
Though previous research has shown that boys are less likely than girls to choose healthier options, the results were robust in both groups.
The study appears in the journal Pediatrics.