The Upside Of Marketing: Tricking Kids Into Eating Vegetables

Can food advertising actually be used for good?

USDA, Flickr
Photography

But aside from the base-level qualms about essentially trying to trick kids into doing anything, there’s nothing about advertising that says it can only be useful for unhealthy foods. Researchers from Cornell University attempted to use marketing for good. They wanted to know what would happen if kids saw ads and media designed to get them to eat vegetables, rather than junk food?

At ten elementary schools in one “large urban district,” the researchers set up an experiment. Some schools were designated the control group and received no changes; other schools found kids exposed to either large banners, a TV cartoon, or both, which depicted vegetables as having “super powers.” The researchers’ aim was to find out if this sort of marketing would affect the kids’ intake of healthy food.

The results, as published in Pediatrics, were dramatic and promising: Not only did the marketing encourage kids to eat more vegetables, it did so by orders of magnitude. Those kids who saw only the banners ate 90.5 percent more vegetables than the control group, and those who saw both the banners and the cartoon ate 239.2 percent more vegetables.

The study went on for six weeks back in 2013; not a particularly long time, and it’s unclear if these sorts of marketing tricks would hold sway for longer periods. Would kids continue to pile more vegetables on their plates a year or three or five years later? But certainly it’s an encouraging sign: There are ways to improve diets using tools we already have.

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