Kids these days are supposed to be much more sophisticated than when we were growing up. My kids can use Iphones, play shows on Netflix. I caught my six-year old looking for shoes on macys.com the other day. So the fact that some colorful cartoon vegetables could meaningfully change elementary school kids eating habits seemed unlikely to me at first. Nevertheless, that's what a study appearing in the journal Pediatrics suggests. And these effects were far from subtle. For the video version of this post, click here.
Here's what you need to know. Ten urban elementary schools participated in this study. These were schools with a largely minority population and where the large majority of students participated in the school lunch program. They all had a regular lunch line as well as a salad bar. The researchers randomized these ten schools into 3 intervention groups and one control. The intervention involved… well… this:
Colorful, smiling, anthropomorphic vegetables. With muscles. One group of schools got these happy little fellows, one group got a video playing some edutainment about healthy eating, and one group got the deluxe package of both. Check out SuperSprowtz for more adorableness.
It seems a bit hokey, but here's the thing. This worked. Surprisingly well. Researchers examined two main outcomes – the number of kids visiting the salad bar, and the percent of kids who ended up buying vegetables from anywhere in the cafeteria.
Here are some numbers: In schools with the vinyl banners, the percent of kids who visited the salad bar increased from 12.6 to 24%. In schools that got the banners as well as the TV spots, the rate went from 10 to 35%. These were pretty impressive numbers.
The main issue here is that the interventions only occurred over a six-week period. That means that some of this effect could be due to novelty. As the great ad man Don Draper once said, "Even though success is a reality, its effects are temporary".
And it should be noted that there are groups out there who are opposed to marketing to children in all its forms. To some extent, I get that – kids minds are manipulated by cleverly-designed ads all the time. But could this be a case of the ends justifying the means?
I mean, if it would get my kids to eat their vegetables, I might dress up like Brian the Brawny Broccoli myself.