Study Shows Marketing Health Food to Kids Works

Study Shows Marketing Health Food to Kids Works

The Kid’s Doctor

The marketing of foods to children continues to be a hot topic. As any parent knows, by the time children are 3, 4 or 5 years old they can often point to the box of sugary cereal with their favorite cartoon character on it or identify a sign (McDonalds, Chick-Fil-A, Pizza Hut) although they are not yet reading. Companies are very clever when it comes to marketing, especially to children who drive a lot of consumer choices.

However, an article in Pediatrics’ July issue shows how marketing may also drive healthy food choices. The study entitled, “Marketing Vegetable in Elementary School Cafeterias to Increase Uptake,” looked at the number of students who chose fresh vegetables from the salad bar at 10 elementary school cafeterias in a large school district over a six-week period.

The study included four different groups.

In the first group, the schools displayed vinyl banners with branded cartoon vegetable characters. These banners were then wrapped around the salad bar bases. The characters displayed “super human” strength related to eating vegetables (the Popeye of my generation — with his spinach).

The second group of schools showed short television segments, which had vegetable characters delivering healthy nutritional advice.

In the third group of schools, both the salad bar banners and TV segments were used to promote healthy nutrition and food choices.

The fourth group was the control group and received no intervention.

The intervention schools also had decals with the vegetable characters placed on the floor which directed the children to the salad bars.

The results? Nearly twice as many students ate vegetables from the salad bar when they were exposed to the banners. More than three times as many students who were exposed to both banners and TV segments went to the salad bar (more girls than boys). Interestingly, the marketing campaign also increased the number of students who chose a vegetable serving in the regular lunch line as well.

So it seems that branded marketing strategies may be used in a positive way to promote healthier food choices among young children. Now we just have to get the advertisers to change some of their branded messaging aimed at young children from the “junk” to the healthy foods, as we have data to show that kids will choose good foods — especially if their super heroes like it too!

(Dr. Sue Hubbard is an award-winning pediatrician, medical editor and media host. “The Kid’s Doctor” TV feature can be seen on more than 90 stations across the U.S. Submit questions at The Kid’s Doctor e-book, “Tattoos to Texting: Parenting Today’s Teen,” is now available from Amazon and other e-book vendors.)