Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Influence of Characters on a Child’s Preference

By: Dr. Linda Carson
We are all victims of food, beverage, and media marketing. And every parent has experienced the “pester power” that children impose on us at the grocery store or toy store because of what they saw on TV. Research has indicated that children often select and prefer the taste of foods when a character appears on the packaging. Does this sound familiar to you?
We know more about how characters influence nutrition choices but less about how characters might influence preferences for physical activity. We want our children to develop preferences for both healthy nutrition and physical activities that support the development of motor skills, self-selected active play, creative expression, and problem solving through movement. Many of the food and beverage characters only promote eating but not exercise.
Your child’s small circle of significant influencers can help change that! Usually the influencers of children include their family and teachers, but could also expand to include their faith based leaders, their doctor and dentist, and coaches. If you asked your children who they look up to, they may also say their favorite cartoon character, super hero or another fictional character. This is the influence of media we are talking about. American children view an estimated $1.6 billion a year worth of food and beverage marketing, and many of those ads are for foods that are high in calories and sugar, but low in nutrition and totally don’t even mention physical activity. Think of the characters that promote these foods. We could all name a handful I am sure!
While we wait for food and beverage companies to begin using children’s characters to market only healthy products and physical activity, it is up to you, your family and the other significant influencers to share and repeat consistent health messaging to your child. One thing that your family can do is take advantage of what we know from research - create your own or introduce a familiar character to help deliver messages about healthy nutrition, activities that help make your body healthy, and appropriate dental health behaviors. If the character promotes it, the child is likely to be influenced by the character’s preferences! What a concept!
Your character could still be the super hero or princess they already adore. You can just create healthy scenarios for them! My character that I like to use is named Choosy. Choosy’s name stands for:
If you want to use Choosy as the healthy hero in your home, go ahead! You can learn more about Choosy and the messages Choosy promotes to create active and healthy behaviors here.

Let’s discuss how profoundly influential children’s characters are on young children. What characters have influenced your child’s preferences and in what way? 

About the Author:  Linda Carson, Ed D, is the founder and CEO of Choosy Kids, LLC, and the Ware Distinguished Professor Emerita at West Virginia University. An award winning, nationally recognized expert, Dr. Carson has devoted her career to promoting healthy preferences for young children and the adults who make decisions on their behalf. Click here to learn more about Linda.

23 comments :

  1. This is so true. My boys have already developed preferences for certain characters. The other day we needed new toothpaste and they were sick of the regular kids crest we used, so I got them toothpaste with bubble Guppies on it and they've never been more excited to brush their teeth. �� I model a health lifestyle for them and don't give in to the candy demands at the check out, but you're right, characters can be used for good or bad influence, and it's up to us to make sure it's good.

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    1. Children recognize their favorite characters at a young age too! It is really quite amazing at the recognition capabilities. Thanks for stopping by :)

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  2. I have not had a lot of issues with any of my 6 in this area (other than Barbie with one of the girls just a little) Mine I must even make them not get onto others for the junk they eat. But it could be because I have always cooked from scratch & been verbal as to why I did & why we do not buy other foods etc, I make all out toothpaste, shampoo, cleaners, deodorant etc DIY & my kids have almost never had name brand anything including cereal, we go to the discounted store & buy a months worth of cereal when they have in good natural brands (they call me). But I agree these characters could easily in the future or in an instant persuade my kids. Though I am hoping mot since I never cared about them & they are all so much like me. I enjoyed this article because it is eaxctly what I have talked with other mothers about.

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    1. That is awesome that you haven't experienced this. And way to go with your parenting hard work! Thanks for commenting and stopping by :)

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  3. Thankfully, we don't have cable, so our three-year-old is never exposed to commercials. Makes going shopping a breeze. :) He does watch a few shows on Netflix or Amazon, though, including Daniel Tiger and Sid the Science kid. So far, he's only learned good things from those. :) He did watch a French character called Trotro (a donkey) while it was available on Netflix, but it was a negative influence. Trotro was a bit of a whiner. ;)

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    1. Isn't it crazy how they allow "whiners" to be a children's show? They obviously know the influential powers their show could have! Thanks for stopping by :)

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  4. Love this post, so true... I used to buy "animated" packaged products but not anymore.

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    1. Did you kids react a certain way to not seeing the characters anymore? If so, how did you explain this change to them? Thanks for stopping by!

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  5. Thanks for sharing. We definitely had an uh oh moment at my daughter's two year checkup and the doctor got on us about her weight. I realized I was giving her convenience snacks (I was 7 months pregnant and had an awful pregnancy). We now give her healthier snacks and she is much healthier and her pediatrician was impressed with the drastic turnaround.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your story. I am sure a lot of parents use snacks as "food" but we can all do better and adjust.

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  6. We avoid commercials as much as we can. We also talk a lot about making healthy food choices and identify which foods are nutritious and which ones are not.

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    1. Watching shows from our DVR helps to avoid commercials. :) thanks for stopping by!

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  7. I cannot tell you how many countless debates we have had in the cereal isle... all because of the image on the box. It drives me crazy!!!!

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    1. Awe...it is tough and especially since they put them right at child-level. Thanks for stopping by.

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  8. commercials make me nuts, I always record my shows so I can skip the commercials

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    1. I wonder how long until they force us to watch commercials on tv just like they do before watching a YouTube video. It is nice that we can avoid them now to keep our sanity and protect our kids but you know that will end soon. Thanks for stopping by!

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  9. One of my biggest fears is what I'll teach my child. I'm trying to eat healthier so that rubs off on him too. There are so many things and people that can interfere with the upbringing we had in mind. And it's tough! But we try. Thanks for sharing

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    1. Parents are our children's first teacher and many learn by example. Keep up the good work and thanks for stopping by :)

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  10. What you say is so true. I am glad that you created a healthy character for kids.

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    1. And we are glad that kids and parents can relate to Choosy!!! Thanks for stopping by!

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  11. We don't have cable so I'm lucky my kids don't see a lot of commercials. Still, they are well aware of the characters in a lot of the Disney shows/movies. A lot of the juice boxes have characters on them. I love your healthy character.

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    1. Awe thank you! And yes, Disney characters are everywhere and on everything!! Thanks for stopping by :)

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  12. So true. Kids, especially young kids, are very impressionable. That's why we don't watch TV much in our house, not until our little one is old enough to tell the difference between fiction and reality.

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