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Children Watching Plump Cartoons Eat More High-Calorie Foods

You might want to keep your kids away from cartoons like The Simpsons. A new study has shown that children watching plump cartoon characters consume more high-calorie foods like cookies and candy. The paper has been published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.


We are what we eat. We are also what we watch, apparently. We cannot deny that the environment in which we live leaves its imprint on us – it now seems that watching plump cartoons affects eating behaviours. A new study has brought forth alarming results, suggesting that plump cartoon characters might impact adversely on what kids nowadays consume of food. Researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder found that kids between 6 and 14 years of age eat greater quantities of high-calorie junk foods after watching overweight cartoon characters.

300 children were recruited for the study. The researchers wanted to test whether kids demonstrated behavioural priming effects after exposure to a stereotypically overweight character. As part of the experiment, a group of kids were shown a healthy-weight cartoon character while others were made to watch overweight ones, and yet another group was classified and was shown no cartoon character at all.

Thereafter, different types of food were made accessible to the kids, from high-energy to low-nutrient snack foods. As such, the findings showed a significant increase in their food intake after exposure to cartoon images. The researchers explained that those kids shown the overweight cartoon were primed to the overweight stereotype which impacted on their eating behaviour.

“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,” she said in a statement.

Furthermore, kids exposed to both healthy and overweight cartoons showed the propensity to eat more than kids who did not watch the overweight cartoon. It seems that the very appearance of the latter is enough to prompt kids to have more snacks.

On the other hand, this tendency was lowered when the kids were reminded of their previous knowledge of healthy foods before they opted for eating cookies, suggesting that while kids know about right types of food, they might just need a timely reminder for them to stick to healthy eating.

“This is key information we should continue to explore,” said Campbell. “Kids don’t necessarily draw upon previous knowledge when they’re making decisions. But perhaps if we’re able to help trigger their health knowledge with a quiz just as they’re about to select lunch at school, for instance, they’ll choose the more nutritious foods.”


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