Health Buzz: Cartoon Characters Influence Kids' Cereal Choices

Parents, don't be conned by sugary kids' cereals; could getting more fiber help you live longer?

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Kids Prefer Cereal from Cartoon-Clad Boxes

Dancing penguins apparently make packaged food taste better. So suggests new research that found kids are more likely to enjoy cereal and snacks when they see their favorite cartoon or movie characters stamped on the packaging, regardless of whether the product is healthy. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania gave 80 kids a box of cereal labeled either Healthy Bits or Sugar Bits; half the boxes were decorated with penguins from the movie Happy Feet, while the others were cartoon-free. All boxes contained the same healthy cereal sold at natural-food stores, and the kids, ages 4 to 6, each tasted a serving from one box. When asked to rate taste on a scale of 1 to 5, those who'd eaten cereal from penguin-clad boxes reported enjoying it more than the kids who ate from cartoon-free boxes. Surprisingly, the kids were also influenced by the product name: When there were no cartoons on either box, they rated Healthy Bits as better-tasting than Sugar Bits. That suggests healthy-eating messages may finally be resonating, the researchers said, though they still believe using popular characters to market foods holds more sway. Characters are often used to sell junk food, according to the study published Monday in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. "Take these cartoon characters and put them on high-fiber, low-sugar cereals, and target them to children," registered dietitian Keri Gans told HealthDay. "This should be an opportunity for food manufacturers who are concerned about the obesity epidemic in our youth to get them to choose healthier cereals."

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  • Parents, Don't Be Conned by Sugary Kids' Cereals

    Kids will actually eat breakfast cereal that isn't super sugary—and they'll like it, too, writes U.S. News contributor Nancy Shute. That's heartening news for parents who feel like they've been conned by the food industry into serving breakfast with almost no nutritional value, in the belief that their kids would otherwise skip the most important meal of the day. Take that, Froot Loops!

    Many of the breakfast cereals aggressively marketed to children contain huge amounts of sugar: Froot Loops, Cocoa Pebbles, and Frosted Flakes, three of the cereals used in a recent study, have 11 or 12 grams of sugar per serving. For Froot Loops, 42 percent of a serving's 118 calories come from sugar. Other cereals fare even worse; a study of sugary cereals done in 2008 by Consumer Reports found that a bowl of some varieties, like Kellogg's Honey Smacks, had as much sugar as a glazed donut—hardly a healthy start to the day.

    But parents all too often listen to the marketers, and to their own kids, in thinking that's all children will eat. Not so, according to researchers from Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, whose results were reported online last year in Pediatrics. They presented two groups of children with the following breakfast options: cereal, milk, orange juice, and fresh strawberries and bananas. The children could choose what they wanted to eat, and how much. Both groups were also allowed to put sugar on their cereal, from sugar packets left on the table. [Read more: Parents, Don't Be Conned by Sugary Kids' Cereals.]

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    • Could Getting More Fiber Help You Live Longer?

      Hear fiber and you probably think of bran cereal, which doesn't exactly make you salivate. But new research suggests more fiber could equal more years. Analyzing data from nearly 400,000 men and women ages 50 to 71, researchers found that those who consumed the most fiber were 22 percent less likely to die from any cause during the nine years they were studied. Men were 24 to 56 percent and women 34 to 59 percent less likely to die of heart and infectious or respiratory diseases, according to findings from the National Institutes of Health's AARP Diet and Health Study, published last month in the Archives of Internal Medicine.