Kids Think Food Tastes Better From Cartooned Packages

"It does bring up the point that there is an influence of cartoon characters -- they're in business for a reason," said Keith Thomas Ayoob, professor of pediatrics and a registered dietitian at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

"Should it be restricted? No. That's what you have parents for," he said.

Ayoob noted, as did the authors of the study, that recent attempts to put cartoon characters on healthier food have shown to be effective. Ayoob disclosed that he worked with Disney (which owns ABC News) to choose which foods in theme parks could carry a cartoon character. He said the "strict" limits meant only foods with good nutrition could have a cartoon character on them.

"It has been shown to be successful that kids would eat a bag of carrots if their favorite character is on it," said Ayoob. "It's a tool. I have a hard time thinking these characters should be restricted."

"I think parents have a whole lot more influence and should have a whole lot more influence than characters on a package," he said.

Parents Can Influence Tastes, Too

Ayoob advises parents in his clinic to have a simple policy when it comes to grocery shopping and unhealthy foods. If a tantrum happens -- the child doesn't get the food.

"Parents often say I don't want a fight," he said. "Tantrums make your decision making easier. Once you have a tantrum, you never get it."

Registered dietitian Jeannie Gazzaniga-Moloo said food with cartoon characters on the packaging is a common "hurdle" for parents trying to feed children a nutritious meal.

"Certainly some of these character snack foods can have merit in a healthy diet, however more often than not they are low in nutrients and high in calories," said Gazzaniga-Moloo, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

Yet despite the difficulty, Gazzaniga-Moloo said she thought the small study was not enough to call for regulations cartoon character marketing.

"It was nice to see that the study was done. It's always nice to have documentation of influences on eating behavior," she said. "But I think that we need a little more studies to see whether or not we want that type of action. I think it's a little premature."

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