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Maybe a little marketing is needed to get kids to eat their veggies

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For some parents, getting their kids to eat their fruits and vegetables can be like pulling teeth. There's bribing, pleading, whining, maybe even a little crying.

But maybe you just need to take a page from big-name food manufacturers and slap a cartoon on that apple or carrot stick and watch as little Sophia and Ethan eat them up.

At least, that's if you believe the findings of a new study published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine that suggests elementary school children are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables if they had a cartoon sticker on them. Get this: Children were more likely to choose an apple over a cookie if the fruit had a sticker with a well-known character, such as Elmo, on it.

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As Reuters reports, the idea is to encourage healthy eating by using some of the tactics that have helped make sugary cereal, macaroni-in-a-can and all kinds of other non-nutritious foods so popular with the younger set.

"If we're trying to promote healthier foods, we need to be as smart as the companies that are selling the less-healthy foods," David Just, co-director of the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Program, told Reuters. Mr. Just was also involved in the study.

He even added that in the battle over healthy eating, it's okay to "fight fire with fire."

In the study, researchers offered cookies and apples to just over 200 students between ages eight to 11 every day for a week. They were told they could choose an apple, a cookie, or both, as well as their regular meal.

On some days, no stickers were on the snacks, while on others, either the cookies or the apples had a cartoon sticker.

On days with no stickers, just over 90 per cent of children took a cookie. But less than a quarter took an apple. However, that rose to nearly 40 per cent when stickers were placed on the apples.

"There are so many foods that are of poor nutritional quality and they are being marketed to children," Christina Roberto with the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, who was not involved with the study, told Reuters.

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The issue of branding and marketing food to children is a hot topic. While many manufacturers have taken voluntary pledges to limit marketing food to children, enforcement is difficult and there is plenty of evidence that food marketing to children continues. Just take a stroll through the grocery store and notice all of the packages emblazoned with cartoon characters.

The problem with junk food marketing is that it has been tied to rising rates of obesity and other health problems among young people.

While efforts have been made to reduce the extent of the problem – San Francisco tried to ban toys from being given out with McDonald's Happy Meals, for instance – it doesn't seem to be doing much good. In fact, McDonald's even worked around the ban by charging customers 10 cents for a Happy Meal toy.

Should junk food marketing be banned in Canada?

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About the Author

Carly Weeks has been a journalist with The Globe and Mail since 2007.  She has reported on everything from federal politics to the high levels of sodium in the Canadian diet. More


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