A study published in The Journal of Consumer Psychology states that fat cartoon characters may prompt children to eat more junk food. The study undertaken by researchers from Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado at Boulder states that cartoon characters found in children’s books, movies, video games, fast food menus and graphical novels may influence children’s behaviour in an unforeseen way especially when it comes to eating.
The study was conducted on 60 students studying in the eighth grade during which they were shown lean and fat characters separately. After this, they were offered bowls of Starburst candies and Hershey's Kisses. It was observed that children who were shown the fat character, took on an average 3.8 candies compared to 1.7 candies taken by those who were shown the lean character.
In another experiment, 167 elementary students were rounded up and shown two red Gumby-like cartoon characters, one fat and one thin. They were then asked to take the ‘taste test’ which involved eating cookies. Children this time were divided in three groups and the first two groups were shown the fat character whereas the third group was shown the thin character. Before the first group could have the cookies they were asked to think about things that make them healthy such as getting enough sleep as against watching TV or drinking soda versus milk.
It was observed that the first group had 3 cookies on an average compared to the second group which had 4.2 cookies. The only difference between the first and the second group is that the latter was asked the question after the test. The third group of students after the test were asked the same question and it was found that they too had consumed 3 cookies on an average.
Researchers have suggested that parents can help shape their children’s attitude towards food by reminding them of their health. Another suggestion is that food and entertainment must be separated i.e. television must not be kept on when kids are eating.