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The Elmo Effect on Healthy Eating

elmo-brocolli-sm250The Internet is buzzing over a Sesame Street Workshop study that found when given  a choice between an unhealthy snack and a healthy one, kids were more likely to go with the healthy choice when it had a sticker of a favorite cartoon character attached.  In this case, it was a showdown between chocolate and broccoli and the sticker feature the popular Sesame Street character Elmo.

Why this Elmo/Broccoli study is getting so much attention today isn’t clear.  It was conducted back in 2005 and was not exactly comprehensive.

In the study, 104 preschool children were shown two cards:  one with a picture of a chocolate bar, one with a picture of broccoli.  In the first round, no stickers were applied to either picture and the children were asked to choose which one would they eat.  78% chose the chocolate.  When the researchers slapped a sticker of  Elmo on the chocolate card and a random red puppet on the broccoli card, the preference for chocolate went up to 89%.  But when the stickers were reversed and Elmo was on the broccoli card, the kids were split pretty evenly between the two.

The inference is, of course, that if you somehow connect healthy food to a beloved television character, kids will eat it.

I get that some children are picky and parents need to get crafty when trying to get them to try certain foods.  And if slapping a sticker on a vegetable makes it more attractive, I see no reason not to. But I am more interested in what’s going on in the families of the 22% who chose broccoli when it didn’t have a sticker on it at all.  What are those parents doing?

Image: La Grande Farmers’ Market/Flickr

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