Toons May Be Tempting Kids into Unhealthy Eating Habits

When my children were young (ages 6 and younger), it sometimes felt like a huge battle of who had more influence on my them: me, or what they were seeing on TV or in the movies…

Even though I limited what they saw, young children like to watch their favorite shows over and over, which influences them even more. I was happy when the Cookie Monster on Sesame Street stopped eating so many cookies and began eating healthier foods, but he still had a name that endorsed the idea that eating a lot of cookies was a fun thing to do. I kept setting firm boundaries about eating junk food by saying it’s important to eat a healthy, balanced diet. But I have to admit these cartoon characters made my life more difficult, particularly with my one kid who was a picky eater and tended to like junk food a lot more than healthy food.

Dora the Explorer Ice Cream Image Via Flick’r

That’s why I’m always happy when I see cartoon characters making good eating choices, such as the movie the Fantastic Mr. Fox (rated PG) where the fox likes to eat apples and chicken. (The fact that the fox steals the chickens is another matter, but at least he has a healthy diet.) As my kids got older, however, I could have more advanced conversations with them about how TV and movies influence them. Even now, we talk about when characters are making good and bad choices—and why they make certain choices. No matter how old you are, TV and movies influence you. It’s just trickier to talk about that influence when children are very young and parents are trying to not only teach healthy eating habits but also teach kids values, how to work through disagreements, how to button their clothes, and more.

Lately, I’ve been reading about how cartoons can affect kids. Check out these shocking statistics:

*Two out of three kids said they would pick food that has a picture of a cartoon character, like Shrek, Dora the Explorer, or Scooby Doo than food packaged without a cartoon character.

*Half of all kids surveyed said that food tasted better when it came from packages that showed cartoon characters (even though the food was exactly the same as the food in plain packages).

*Nutrition experts are concerned since cartoon characters tend to promote junk food, not healthy foods.

Nanci Hellmich, “Cartoons Can Tilt Kids’ Food Choices,” USA Today, June 21, 2010.

Shocking, no? So how much do think TV and movie characters influence what your kids eat?Ask your child: What did you learn about eating from your favorite show? You might be surprised, possibly shocked at his or her response.

Read helpful articles about kids and nutrition from the American Academy of Pediatrics at:…