Did you know I’m a bad mom? Yep, I am. I won’t buy the yogurt tubes that look like light sabers from Star Wars. Oh, I also won’t buy the macaroni boxes that have noodles shaped like Phineas and Ferb. And to top it off, I won’t buy the apple slices with caramel dip that have Mickey Mouse on the package. My son doesn’t even bother to ask because he knows I’ll say no. So, clearly, I’m a bad mom, and I’m OK with that.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against the cartoon characters, I’m just against the food most of them are marketing. My child is left to have yogurt that doesn’t contain high fructose corn syrup, macaroni and cheese that is made with real cheese and a whole grain pasta, and he knows that caramel is a special treat not a lunchbox staple. Again, if this makes me a bad mom, so be it. I actually hate that I can’t buy the “fun” snacks for my son, but us bad moms have to stick to our principles.
It comes as no surprise that a recent Yale study concluded that cartoon characters on food packages makes children believe the food inside actually tastes better. This study was published in the July issue of the Journal of Pediatrics. The study documented how children were given the choice of graham crackers, gummy fruits, or carrots – once in a plain package and once in a package containing images of Scooby-Doo, Dora, or Shrek. Guess which foods the children said tasted better? Same food, in a cartoon wrapper was the clear winner.
A similar study conducted by the Sesame Street Workshop showed how preschoolers were given the option of chocolate or broccoli. Most obviously chose the chocolate, however, when the broccoli was adorned with a picture of Elmo, 50 percent of the kids chose the vegetable.
All the tests in the world are proven 100 times over if you just take a trip to the grocery store with a child. The “can I get this?!” requests are pretty telling. My son’s question is ever so slightly different as he says, “Mommy, is this healthy enough for me?” Regardless of the exact phrasing, the request is typically for a food with a cool cartoon image on the front. This type of marketing works. According to Philly.com, the food industry spends $1.6 billion each year on marketing to children. Most parents are “better” than me and buy these items for their kids, too. Don’t believe me? Go to an elementary school at lunch, it’s a cartoon character reunion once those lunch boxes are opened.
First lady Michelle Obama has addressed this issue with her Task Force on Childhood Obesity. The force recommended that those who licensed TV and movie characters use strong “self-regulation” policies. This recommendation has been in place under a different name for a few years now. Larger companies agreed to only use the characters to market healthy foods, but the definition of healthy is gray for many. Result? Really nothing has changed and, in fact, you’ll find more characters out there than ever before.
One bright spot is that Disney has agreed to not use its characters for kid foods unless the food meets a low calorie and fat guideline. It’s a start, I guess.
Doubtfully will those guidelines meet my “bad mom” standards as there’s so much more to a food than calories and fat. Once more, I’m OK with being the bad parent and honestly, I encourage others to tap into their bad side and make their poor kids suffer along with mine. Granted, he’s almost 9, growing happily like a weed, and he loves broccoli, the kind without Elmo on it. Clearly suffering, I’m sure.
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photo credit via lavinephoto.com