Want your kids to beg for fruits and veggies rather than fast food and sugary treats? Turns out the same tactics used to get kids interested in junk food can be employed to get them to eat healthy food too.
In a new study, published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, researchers found that children were more likely to eat an apple with their school lunch if it had an Elmo sticker on it. But adding an Elmo decoration to a cookie did not increase the likelihood of children choosing it, the study found.
The theory is that cookies are popular regardless of whether or not their is a cartoon character on the packaging. But apples were not as popular, unless they were adorned with Elmo.
For the study, about 200 kids between the ages of 8 and 11 from seven schools were asked if they wanted an apple or a cookie as part of their lunch - and they were allowed to choose both. On the first day, neither had cartoon decorations. On the second day, both the cookie and the apple had Elmo stickers on them.
Not surprisingly, 90 percent of kids choose to add a cookie to their lunch on the first day and that stayed about the same on the second day. But the Elmo sticker increased the apple's popularity from around 20 percent on the first day to close to 40 percent on the second day, suggesting that cartoon characters may have the same effect in getting kids to eat healthy food that they have when they are used to persuade kids to choose less healthy fare.
"This study suggests that the use of branding, or appealing branded characters, may benefit healthier foods more than indulgent, more highly processed foods," wrote the Cornell University research team in their study.
Trying to get your kids to eat an apple at lunch? Try adding a little Elmo sticker or note to go along with it. I'm going to try this with my fruit and veggie resistant six-year-old and see how it works. I'll keep you posted!