We are all aware of how much advertising and marketing campaigns can influence children. The commercials they see when watching cartoons are often persuasive enough to get them to beg mom and dad for the latest sugary cereals, cookies, and all sorts of other junk foods and drinks. But what if these powerful messages were used to promote healthy eating instead? According to new research, the right advertising might be a very successful method of improving kids’ dietary habits.
The study, which was conducted by scientists from Ohio State University in Columbus and Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, found that a simple marketing strategy promoting vegetables may be effective in getting children to consume more of them at meals.1 Hanks, Andrew S.; et al. “Marketing Vegetables in Elementary School Cafeterias to Increase Uptake.” Pediatrics. July 2016. Accessed 13 July 2016. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2016/07/01/peds.2015-1720 The subjects were students in 10 elementary schools in an urban area. The schools were randomly selected for various elements of vegetable marketing or none at all, serving as controls.
A marketing campaign focusing on animated characters that are vegetables called the Super Sprowtz was employed. Some of the school cafeterias were decorated with Sprowtz banners on the salad bars; some had short videos of the Sprowtz playing; some had both banners and videos; and in the control schools no changes were made to the cafeterias. The Super Sprowtz appeared in the participating schools for a four-week period.
The marketing efforts were shown to be a notable success. Compared to baseline statistics gathered one to two weeks before the experiment began, the schools displaying just a banner of the Super Sprowtz had close to twice the number of kids choosing vegetables from the salad bar, jumping from fewer than 13 percent up to 24 percent. In the schools that displayed a banner and played the Sprowtz videos in the cafeteria, the percentage of kids helping themselves to vegetables more than tripled, skyrocketing from a mere 10 percent to nearly 35 percent.
Interestingly, however, although the videos seem to have contributed to the increase when used in concert with the banners, they had no impact whatsoever when used alone. The banner appears to be the more effective tool, perhaps because of its location on the salad bar itself.
There are some flaws in this study, despite its positive findings. The short length of time in which the experiment was performed does indicate that changes can occur quickly, but we have no idea whether they will last. Is there a novelty aspect to the children taking more vegetables, or would persistent messaging be enough to keep them coming back for more?
And speaking of the messaging, another issue is the fact that a marketing campaign featuring animated characters is only going to resonate with children up to a certain age. But considering how many older kids and adults watch Family Guy, South Park, The Simpsons, Futurama, etc., that might not be that big a deal. The bottom line is that it’s an open question as to whether or not the same techniques employed in a middle school or high school would fall flat. In any case, there is always the option to offer different advertising messages promoting vegetables to older kids that might appeal to their sensibilities. In addition, if the marketing of vegetables does work for younger kids over the long-term, there might not be as much of a need to push produce on older children since, in theory, they would have developed a greater taste for vegetables years earlier.
At any rate, we can’t lose sight of the bigger picture here. That is, strategies for getting kids to eat healthier foods in school is terrific, but they spend far more time and eat many more meals at home so we need to make better choices as parents too. Offer up fruits and vegetables multiple times a day, both with meals and as snacks. If your children have a poor track record of fruit and vegetable consumption, don’t give up. Serve veggies with a tasty dip such as hummus or a little low-fat ranch dressing to add flavor. And some kids do better with fruit because they like its sweetness. But if you buy less of the processed junk food and keep fruits and vegetables in plain sight,2 Wansink, Brian; et al. “Slim by Design: Kitchen Counter Correlates of Obesity.” Health Education & Behavior. 19 October 2015. Accessed 14 July 2016. http://heb.sagepub.com/content/early/2015/10/15/1090198115610571.abstract your children may develop better eating habits in the long run.
|↑1||Hanks, Andrew S.; et al. “Marketing Vegetables in Elementary School Cafeterias to Increase Uptake.” Pediatrics. July 2016. Accessed 13 July 2016. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2016/07/01/peds.2015-1720|
|↑2||Wansink, Brian; et al. “Slim by Design: Kitchen Counter Correlates of Obesity.” Health Education & Behavior. 19 October 2015. Accessed 14 July 2016. http://heb.sagepub.com/content/early/2015/10/15/1090198115610571.abstract|