Published: Sept. 1, 2015


CU-Boulder study finds plump cartoon characters drive kids to junk food

Children tend to reach for low-nutrition, high-calorie food — and more of it — after seeing cartoon characters that seem overweight, CU-Boulder researchers have found.

“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,” says Margaret C. Campbell, a CU marketing professor and the study’s lead author.

Broadly, the study establishes that children are responsive to fictional characters’ weight, as suggested by relative roundness, the researchers say.

“We weren’t sure whether kids would be aware of bodyweight norms,” says Campbell. “But surprisingly, they apply typically human standards to cartoon creatures — creatures for which there isn’t a real baseline.”

The research suggests ways of encouraging kids to opt for healthier foods — by prompting them to consider healthier alternatives in advance, for example, and by giving cartoon characters associated with low nutrition foods a sleeker look.

Researchers think related techniques could promote healthier eating in a variety of contexts.

“Perhaps if we’re able to help trigger their health knowledge with a quiz or game just as they’re about to select lunch at school, for instance, they’ll choose the more nutritious foods,” says Campbell.

Colorado State University researchers were also involved in the study, which was published online in the Journal of Consumer Psychology. It included more than 300 subjects in three age groups averaging 8, 12 and 13 years old.

Read more about plump cartoon characters.