How Mascots like Tony the Tiger Are Influencing Kids’ Eating Habits and Jeopardizing Their Health
Link Discovered Between Popular Cartoon Characters and Unhealthy Eating Habits in Canadian Children
New Research Highlights the Impact of Marketing Techniques on Kids’ Food Choices
Junk food mascots, including Tony the Tiger, the Pillsbury Doughboy, and the beloved Paw Patrol characters, have been found to contribute to the development of unhealthy eating habits in Canadian children, according to a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Ottawa and funded by Heart & Stroke.
The study, published on Tuesday, reveals a strong connection between licensed cartoon characters, such as Spiderman, and spokes characters, like Lucky the Leprechaun from Lucky Charms, and their ability to entice children into consuming junk food.
The researchers discovered that children are highly susceptible to marketing techniques specifically targeted at them.
Monique Potvin Kent, the lead author of the study and associate professor in the School of Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of Ottawa, emphasizes the significant impact that characters like Tony the Tiger and Snap, Crackle, and Pop have on kids.
Children are more likely to prefer products advertised with these characters and even persuade their parents to purchase them.
While the exact mechanism behind this influence is not yet fully understood, the researchers believe that the appeal lies in the lovable and familiar nature of these characters.
However, the implications for children’s health are concerning. Potvin Kent warns that these cartoon mascots pose a threat to children’s well-being, as the majority of their food consumption comes from ultra-processed, high-fat, sugary, and salty foods.
With approximately 30 percent of Canadian children and teenagers being either overweight or obese, addressing this issue is crucial to prevent the development of chronic diseases later in life.
The study also explored the impact of different types of characters in food marketing. More than 1,300 Canadian children, aged nine to twelve, were exposed to various food advertisements during January and February of this year.
The researchers analyzed their intentions to eat, buy, or request the products featured in the ads.
The children were exposed to ads containing either spokes characters like Tony the Tiger and the Pillsbury Doughboy or licensed characters like Spiderman or Paw Patrol. Another group of children saw no characters at all, while some advertisements targeted adults.
The study revealed that children exposed to spokes characters had a significantly higher average impact compared to those exposed to licensed characters. However, licensed characters still had a notable influence on children, surpassing the impact of ads without cartoon characters.
Childhood obesity rates in Canada have nearly tripled in the last three decades, according to Health Canada.
Factors such as a lack of exercise, consumption of high-calorie foods, genetic predisposition, and hormonal imbalances contribute to this alarming trend. Obese children face a higher risk of developing various health problems, including heart disease,
Type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, and depression. Dr. Tom Warshawski, a pediatrician and chair of the Childhood Obesity Foundation, explains that consuming highly processed foods not only increases the lifelong risk of cardiovascular disease but also fosters unhealthy eating habits. The environment shaped by the food and beverage industry plays a significant role in this regard.
Currently, the regulation of food and beverage advertising to children in Canada is self-regulated by the industry. However, self-regulation has proven ineffective in reducing children’s exposure to food advertisements.
Health Canada acknowledges the vulnerability of children to advertising and its influence on their food attitudes, preferences, and overall health.
As a result, the organization is working on introducing restrictions on advertising certain foods to children, particularly those high in sodium, sugar, and saturated fat.
Public opinion is being sought through proposed amendments to the Food and Drug Regulations, with the aim of limiting advertisements for unhealthy foods targeted at children under the age of 13.
This includes television and digital ads promoting candy, chips, chocolates, and sugary drinks.