Marketing helps kids choose healthier foods

Healthy EaterMarketing vegetables with characters that have superhuman strength in elementary schools gets kids to eat healthier, according to a recently study by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The study titled “Marketing Vegetables in Elementary School Cafeterias to Increase Uptake” set out to measure the impact that daily exposure to branded vegetable characters has on vegetable selection among boys and girls in elementary schools.

“Children do not eat enough fruits and vegetables and are often inundated with advertisements for less nutritious foods,” the study states. “In fact, many experts have called for bans on food advertising to children.”

The study measured the impact of either:

  1. A vinyl banner displaying vegetable characters fastened around the based of the salad bar.
  2. Short television segments with health education delivered by vegetable characters.
  3. A combination of both.

The results showed that 90 percent more students took vegetables from the salad bar when exposed to the banner, and nearly 240 percent more students visited the salad bar when exposed to both the television segments and vinyl banners. Both boys and girls responded positively to the vinyl banners but the increase from the combined exposure was mostly from girls.

While the schools in the study had salad bars, the authors acknowledged that most schools do not, though advocates are pushing to bring salad bars to more schools. In any case, the marketing campaign also increased servings of vegetables chosen in the regular lunch line.

Amid calls by some advocacy groups to ban all advertising aimed at children, the study authors say their findings highlight the opportunity to market in a positive way by using branded media to promote healthier food choices among children.

In addition, the study points out that school food service managers can use the findings in relatively inexpensive ways such as providing descriptive names for the foods they offer and making them more convenient to take.

“With childhood nutrition as the ultimate goal, the synergistic combination of marketing strategies and healthy choices has great potential for improving what children take and eat, both in school and out of school,” the study concludes.

By Betsy Stein