06/22/2010 // WPB, FL, USA // Nicole Howley // Nicole Howley

West Palm Beach, FL—A recent study has found that kids believe food tastes better from a package showcasing cartoon characters like Shrek, Sponge Bob, and Dora the Explorer, then the same exact food in plain packaging. This revelation has prompted some to demand reform to combat childhood obesity and how food is packaged to children, as reported by The New York Times.

The study, which will be published in the journal Pediatrics this week, used a group of 40 children, ages 4 to 6, where they gave them paired samples of graham crackers, gummy fruit snacks and baby carrots. Each pair of the sample foods were the exact same, all the way down to the clear packaging, except one of the packages had a sticker of Shrek, Dora the Explorer, or Scooby Doo on the packaging.

Fifty to 55 percent of the children said that the food from the package with the cartoon character sticker tasted better than the food from the plain packaging. Seventy-three to 85 percent said the food in the character packaging is the one they’d want as a snack.

The lead author of the study, Christina Roberto, M.S., a doctoral student at Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity says, “Parents may not set out to buy unhealthy products, but kids can be really, really persuasive. They see them and they want them, and it gets difficult to have that battle in the grocery store.”

The American Psychological Association and other groups are asking for the elimination of all marketing of food products to children. Marion Nestle, Ph. D., a professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University stated, “Young children, particularly under the age of 7 or 8, really don’t understand the persuasive intent of marketing. That seems inherently unfair, and something we should protect children from, just like we protect them from other things we think are beyond their cognitive ability, like pornography.”

U.S. food and beverage companies spend over $1.6 billion every year to get the attention of children. Thirteen percent of that money is allotted to character licensing and similar cross-promotion efforts. Some reform movement has worked, according to research conducted by the Rudd Center, which found the use of license characters on food products dropped between 2006 and 2008.

Legal News Reporter: Nicole Howley-Legal news for marketing lawyers.

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