Field Notes

Cartoon Characters on Packaging May Not Affect Kids’ Snack Choices

Parents and lawmakers looking to cartoon characters as a reason children choose cookies over carrots may be looking in the wrong direction, according to a new report from the University of Colorado Boulder’s Leeds School of Business and Colorado State University’s College of Business.

In the study, published in the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, researchers ran several tests allowing kids to pick between snacks with or without licensed characters such as SpongeBob or Scooby Doo on the packaging.

They found children are more likely to pick foods branded with licensed characters when choosing between similar products, such as two packages of carrots. If the choice is between carrots or cookies, however, cartoon characters did not trump children’s taste buds.

“The primary influence on kids’ choices is taste,” says study coauthor Margaret C. Campbell, PhD, the Provost Professor of Marketing at the Leeds School of Business. “The licensed character only has an influence on moving kids’ choices between foods with the same level of expected taste.”

That means proposals like the United Kingdom’s 2018 effort to ban cartoon characters on junk food packaging may miss the mark.

“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,” says study lead author Bridget Leonard, PhD, a University of Colorado Boulder PhD candidate during the research, now an assistant professor of marketing at Assumption College. “More research needs to be done on how to get children to make those healthy choices.”

The studies do hold an important takeaway for marketers promoting healthful food, however, finding parents are influenced by licensed characters, too.

“We found that characters did have an effect on caregivers’ perceptions that a food is fun or for kids,” says Kenneth Manning, PhD, 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.”

The researchers also found licensed characters didn’t affect how much kids eat of a particular snack.

— Source: University of Colorado Boulder


Creatine Supplement Can Boost Cognitive Function in Vegetarians

Vegetarians who take the dietary supplement creatine may enjoy improved brain function, according to a study presented at the American Physiological Society’s annual meeting at Experimental Biology 2019 in Orlando, Florida.

Creatine is a chemical stored in the muscles and brain that helps build lean muscle. In addition to being produced by the human body, creatine is also naturally occurring in red meats and seafood, and in smaller amounts in dairy products. People who don’t eat animal products generally have lower creatine levels in the brain than those who consume meat.

Researchers from Stetson University in Florida studied vegetarian volunteers as well as those who ate either up to 10 or 10 or more servings of beef, chicken, pork, or fish each week. The volunteers were split into two groups selected randomly. One group took a daily creatine supplement for four weeks, and the other group didn’t. Before and after the trial, all participants took the ImPACT test, a widely used standardized measure of neurocognitive function. The vegetarian supplement group scored higher on the ImPACT test than the group that ate 10 or more servings of meat, poultry, or seafood per week. “Meat eaters did not show any significant improvement of cognition following supplementation because [their] creatine levels were already elevated [from their diet],” explains Kaitlyn Smith, an undergraduate student at Stetson and first author of the study.

“This is a pilot study for future research in the field of cognition, and specifically in vegetarians, as [there is] a shift to meat- and dairy-free alternatives in society,” Smith adds.

— Source: American Physiological Society