Cartoon Characters Don't Make Kids Want Unhealthy Foods, But They Do Trick Parents

A study from the Leeds School Of Business at the University Of Colorado Boulder and Colorado State University's College Of Business has found, in short, that if you put Scooby Doo's face on a bag of fruit snacks, it's no more likely to tempt your kid away from carrots than a snack that's Scooby-face-free.

Appearing in the April issue of Journal Of Public Policy & Marketing (and brought to our attention by Medical Xpress), the study saw researchers run tests in which children were prompted to choose between snacks with or without licensed cartoon characters—your Scoobys, your SpongeBobs, your Steven Universes and Crystal Gems, you get the idea. Researchers found that, when choosing between two similar products, the children were more likely to select a product bearing a friendly animated face. But when presented with two different options, like cookies vs. carrots, the cartoon characters did not affect the kids' decisions.

According to Margaret C. Campbell, a professor at the Leeds School and a co-author of the study, "The primary influence on kids' choices is taste... The licensed character only has an influence on moving kids' choices between foods with the same level of expected taste."

Lead author Bridget Leonard added, "While previous studies show a major spike in characters on food packages, our new research finds that, while those characters may influence brand choice, they don't have a strong effect on choice of healthy over indulgent foods... More research needs to be done on how to get children to make those healthy choices."

SpongeBob also didn't impact how much of a given food the kids would eat. However, the world's leading authority on living in a pineapple under the sea did have an impact on parents and caregivers. So, good job, marketing:

"We found that characters did have an effect on caregivers' perceptions that a food is fun or for kids," said Kenneth Manning, a Colorado State University College of Business professor. "Thus, including licensed characters on packages may help brands in their efforts to position foods as designed for children."

Joke's on you, Mom.