Influencing kids to make the right food choice could be a lot easier for parents as researchers have found that children exposed to animated cartoon characters that take the shapes of healthy vegetables such as carrots or cucumber are more likely to eat salad on their own.
Marketing vegetables in school lunchrooms using the Super Sprowtz — a team of fun-loving characters with super powers — almost tripled the percentage of elementary school students choosing items from the salad bar,the findings showed.
"If we put the time and good resources into marketing healthy choices to kids, it can work," said lead researcher Andrew Hanks, Assistant Professor at The Ohio State University in the US.
Further, such interventions were found to improve nutrition, behaviour as well as performance in school.
For the study, published in the journal Pediatrics, the team analysed the behaviour of children from 10 public elementary schools in urban New York State.
In some schools, they wrapped the bottom portion of the salad bar with a vinyl banner depicting the cartoon characters as super veggies.
In others, they played cartoon videos in the lunch room. And in others, they tried both tactics.
According to researchers, in schools with the salad bar banners, 24 per cent of kids took vegetables from the salad bars.
In those schools that had characters on the salad bar and video, the vegetable selection jumped from 10 per cent to almost 35 per cent.
"If we can encourage kids to take vegetables of their own accord, rather than have someone put it there for them, they’re much more likely to eat them," Hanks noted.
No significant improvement was found in schools with videos alone.
However, the researchers said that it is unlikely such a technique would work with older students.
"It’s important to be strategic. If you use these characters in a middle or high school I doubt they will have much of an impact," Hanks said adding, "our study is best generalised to an urban elementary school setting."