Branding in schools is a controversial subject. Advocates for children's health are vocal about wanting big names for fast food and sugary snacks banned from the educational system.
Researchers at Cornell University are trying a different approach.
"Brands sell cookies. Brands sell soft drinks. Brands sell candy bars," says Brian Wansink, professor of marketing at the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management. "You can also use brands to sell healthy foods."
Wansink and his colleagues followed 208 children, ages 8 to 11, during lunch on five consecutive days. At each meal the kids were offered the opportunity to take an apple and/or a cookie.
On the first day, both the cookies and the apples were unbranded and the kids' choices were recorded as a baseline.
The next day, the cookies were branded with a sticker of Elmo from "Sesame Street"; the following day, the Elmo sticker was placed on the apples. On the fourth day, the apples were branded with a sticker of an unknown cartoon character.
On the last day, the foods were once again unbranded to see if the effect lasted.
There was very little difference in the number of children who chose the cookies with the Elmo sticker versus the number who chose the unbranded package. But Wansink says he was surprised at the impact the Elmo sticker had on kids' apple decisions - more than double chose to take the branded fruit. And that healthy effect lasted through the weekend.
"This study suggests that the use of branding or appealing branded characters may benefit healthier foods more than indulgent, more highly processed foods," the authors wrote in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine journal.
Wansink is also looking at how the names of nutritious foods affects children's meal choices. Using descriptive names, like X-RayVision Carrots, can dramatically increase the likelihood that a child will choose to eat it, he says.
For more information, go to SmarterLunchrooms.org
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