Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Health Needs a Hero!

By: Dr. Linda Carson

When I was growing up, a sailor with big arms and a gruff voice had an influential message about getting strong by eating spinach. Popeye was so influential that he increased the sale of spinach by 33% in the 1950’s. I understand that there is an effort under way right now to bring him back for a new generation of children, but this time without his habit of smoking a pipe! A new Popeye and other children's characters with health messages are desperately needed in our country and around the world.

Currently, American children see an estimated $1.6 billion a year worth of food and beverage marketing, and many of those ads are foods that are high in calories and sugar, but low in nutrition. Some of our cereals and other processed foods in a box are so depleted that they have to be “fortified” and even then, the nutritional value is extremely compromised. For some products, there is not much nutritional difference between the contents in the box and the cardboard the box is made from.

Until food and beverage companies are using children’s characters to market only healthy products, it is up to each family and the other significant influencers to share and repeat consistent health messaging with children and families. The research (samples noted below) confirms that children’s characters are profoundly influential, whether positive or negative.

And a very positive thing that the family and/or preschool teacher can do is take advantage of what we know from research---create or introduce a familiar character to help deliver messages about healthy nutrition, physical activities that help make your body healthy, and appropriate dental health behaviors. Plus, having a character as an influential “assistant” helps with the consistency factor that we humans have trouble with at times.

I have spent my career promoting healthy choices, and advocating for parents as the best play partners ever. After teaching in public school enough years to appreciate the needs and barriers of that context, I spent the next 30 years teaching University students who wanted to be teachers. While methods of delivering the content has changed over the years, one thing has remained constant---the need is great for dedicated, well prepared teachers who collaborate and engage with parents on the profoundly important task of getting young children ready to make responsible decisions about learning and life.

In recent years I have had the privilege of developing resources for parents and teachers who are laying the foundation for healthy decision-making by children and entire families. Long before Popeye was given a do-over, we introduced CHOOSY as a health hero for this generation of young children. Choosy’s name stands for Choose Healthy Options Often and Start Young.

If you want to use Choosy as a health hero in your home or classroom, see www.choosykids.com for examples of unique, easy to use resources, especially children’s music that contains health messages. There is such a thing as stuck song syndrome that can work like reminders. If children (and adults) can’t get that song out of their heads, health messaging is working!

Bottom line: If a character promotes it, whether in a story book, on a window cling, or in music, a young child is likely to be influenced by the character’s preferences! What a concept and what a big help to busy Mom’s and Dad's.

**Research examples supporting the influence of children’s characters on health 
  choices and preferences:
Kotler, et al Journal of Health Communication (2012); 
Roberto, et al Pediatrics (2010); 
Lanigan, J.D. Child: Care, Health and Development (2010) 

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.

24 comments :

  1. Such an important idea. I remember Popeye and how I wanted to eat spinach because of him. Kids really do need some type of character or hero to look up to, and Choosy looks like he's up for the job.

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    1. Choosy is ready for this role. While Popeye was awesome, it is time for a new role model.

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  2. It's all about characters for kids & they like to do what they do!

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    1. Exactly why we need characters that promote healthy living.

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  3. It is scary how much kids will rely on a commercial to tell them what they want... I am so glad you are getting the word out with this fun character!!

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    1. Agreed! And it doesn't end with food because toy companies make the same kind of advertisements just with a different mindset in that they want the kids to play with this toy.

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  4. Never underestimate the power of a good character, right? I learned this with Daniel Tiger, my daughter legitimately sings the little 'lessons' in tough real-life situations. I can definitely get on board with this!

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    1. Daniel Tiger is a lovely character. Choosy and him would get along nicely :)

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  5. Kids really do idolize characters! Even my daughter being a toddler, what she sees on TV is what she likes.

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    1. Toddlers have sponges for brains so of course everything they see and hear gets soaked up and remembered. It's amazing what a toddler remembers!!

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  6. Choosy is cute! I've noticed that my toddler surprises me sometimes in what he's willing to eat, because he has no preconceived notions that veggies are "yucky." He was really excited to eat squash the other day, which even inspired my first grader to give it a try! (She loved it!)

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    1. I agree that if someone else says something is good then I am typically more willing to give it a try. Must be the same with kids!

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  7. my children loves eating vegetables, it's always good to introduce healthy foods even if they are still very young so they will learn to love it.

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    1. Great point about introducing at a young age. Although our tastes may change as we age, we will be more willing to give new things a try if we were taught to do this when we were young!

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  8. Great informational post, thank you for sharing :)

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    1. You're welcome! We are happy you stopped by!

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  9. I love this idea. Use what kids love for GOOD instead of filling their minds with negative influences.

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    1. Exactly! Children are like sponges and soak up everything they see and hear so if we provide them with a role model who makes healthy choices then they are likely to follow suit!

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  10. This is a great message! Kids are influenced by so many things, so it is important to have good role models!

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    1. Hehe! I just said almost the exact thing replying to another comment. Kids look up to their immediate family and then their favorite characters because that is who is "involved" in their lives the most.

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  11. Yes,characters certainly make a difference with children.
    Popeye was never one of my favourites- it was Batman, Robin, and Mary Poppins that held appeal for me.
    My DD liked Timmy Turner and George Shrinks.
    Why?
    Although these characters were purely fun, they made it seem as though any thing is possible.

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    1. Some kids like to think of Choosy as a super hero because of the purple cape!!

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