Preventing childhood obesity is a key part in combatting the obesity epidemic currently plaguing the United States, as overweight adolescents have a 70% chance of becoming overweight or obese adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that there are several different factors that cause childhood obesity, such as the advertisements of less healthy foods, limited access to healthier foods, and increasing portion sizes just to name a few.
But Homer Simpson? Winnie the Pooh? Spongebob’s best friend Patrick?
According to a new study from Colorado State University published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, children who were exposed to chubby cartoon characters, such as McDonald’s Grimace and even Sesame Street’s Big Bird, were more likely to eat indulgently compared to children who watched healthier cartoon characters.
In other words, watching fat cartoon characters triggers overeating in children.
“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,” said lead author Margaret Campbell in a press release.
Researchers gathered 300 participants between the ages of six and 14, and exposed them to overweight characters and normal weight characters. They then gave the kids access to “high energy, low-nutrient food.” The kids who were exposed to fat cartoon characters ate more.
However, researchers asked them to choose the healthiest food options from sets of pictures in another round, which modified the children’s choices. The question apparently stimulated the kids’ health knowledge, and caused them to indulge less after watching the cartoons.
“Kids don’t necessarily draw upon previous knowledge when they’re making decisions,” said Campbell. “But perhaps if we’re able to help trigger their health knowledge with a quiz just as they’re about to select lunch at school, for instance, they’ll choose the more nutritious foods.”