Cartoon Characters: Higher Authority Than Parents?

Do your children drop everything for Dora the Explorer and Shrek, but won’t listen to a word you say? These lovable characters influence the games kids play, the toys they buy, clothing they wear, and even their bed sheets. Where does it stop?

Leaving parents with little influence, these popular characters have even started to shape food choices. In an article by, cartoon characters debuted on food items as early as the 90’s with green Ninja Turtle Pudding Pies.

Dr. Thomas Robinson, M.D., a professor of child health at the Stanford University School of Medicine says the use of TV and movie characters on food packaging is “designed to access certain feelings, memories, and associations. If you associate certain products with things that are otherwise considered fun, it’s going to make those products seem more desirable.”

Food and beverage companies spend more than $1.6 billion a year in licensing and cross-promotion efforts to attract kids’ attention. Cartoon characters appear on unhealthy food like chips, cookies and salty crackers. Good news though, they also started to use the same characters on healthy foods. Problem? Health experts believe children will confuse junk food to be nutritious.

According to a study, children develop an emotional connection with name brands as early as three-years-old. Researchers put 40 children to the test. Each child was given two clear plastic bags containing the same foods, but one bag had a sticker of an adored character and the other didn’t. The children claimed the food in the bag with the cartoon character tasted better, the apples were crisper, and the carrots were crunchier. What does this mean?

How can we limit character influence over children’s junk food consumption? Would it be beneficial to ban all cartoon characters on unhealthy snacks? Would you spend the extra dime on character packaging to ensure your child is eating nutritious foods?