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Using Cartoon Characters to Market Junk Food


If Shrek or Dora the Explorer ate their vegetables, would kids eat them, too? Little has been done to determine if food companies that use character licensing (placing the image of a popular movie or TV character on product packaging to make it more appealing), affect the eating habits of children.

In the study, “Influence of Licensed Characters on Children’s Taste and Snack Preferences,” published in the July print issue of Pediatrics (published online June 21), 40 children ages 4 to 6 tasted three pairs of identical foods (graham crackers, gummy fruit and carrots) in packages either with or without a popular cartoon character. The kids thought the graham crackers and gummy fruit snacks tasted significantly better when characters appeared on the package, but the effect was not quite significant for carrots. Study authors suggest that we should be restricting the use of licensed characters on junk foods first, rather than putting them on healthy foods simultaneously. However, for all three snacks, when kids were asked which they would prefer for a snack, they overwhelmingly chose the snack with a character, suggesting the characters influence their decision even if there is no difference in taste.


The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 60,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. For more information, visit