Archives Peds. Adol. Med.

Cartoon Characters Impact Kids’ Cereal Preferences

April 15th, 2011 | 1 Comment | Source: Archives Peds. Adol. Med., NPR

Based on their experience during countless schleps to the market, moms know that kids pick cereals whose boxes have cartoon characters on them. Previous research by Yale scientists explained the phenomenon: kids say that the stuff poured from such boxes tastes better than the same stuff when poured from a cartoon-less box. The same thing happens when kids pick graham crackers, carrots and gummy fruit snacks.

Pictures of Shrek, Dora the Explorer, Scooby Doo and their kin make just about anything taste yummier, it seems.

Can this observation be leveraged to encourage kids to select healthier foods? Yes, it turns out. But the story isn’t as straightforward as you’d think.

To study the impact of licensed media spokescharacters and other nutrition cues on kids’ taste assessment of food products, scientists at the University of Pennsylvania fed cereal from a box that had been labeled either “Sugar Bits” or “Healthy Bits” to 80 kids. Half the boxes in each “brand category” were adorned with cute cartoon penguins, while the other half were not. The kids were between 4 and 6 years old.

The scientists then asked the kids to rate the taste of the cereals on a 1 to 5 smiley face scale. Surprisingly, kids loved the Healthy Bits, which scored 4.5 regardless of whether the penguin was present or not. However, the penguins had a marked impact on kids’ taste preferences for Sugar Bits. For this brand, the taste score sans penguins was below 3, whereas it was over 4 if the cereal was delivered from a box featuring the friendly penguins.

Lead author Matthew Lapierre didn’t know for sure why this happened. “One of the explanations we’ve been working with is that kids grow up with this negative association with sugar,” he reasoned in an interview.

To support his hypothesis, Lapierre noted that many cereal brands have replaced the word “sugar” with other words that imply a somewhat healthier message. Sugar Smacks are now called  Honey Smacks, for example. Sugar Crisps are now sold as Golden Crisps.

If Lapierre is right, then these healthier messages have been internalized by kids to the point that they have negative perceptions of the word ‘sugar’ in the faux brand created by his group. (more…)


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Organized Sports Don’t Give Kids Enough Activity

January 13th, 2011 | No Comments | Source: Archives Peds. Adol. Med., LA Times, Wall Street Journal

Millions of parents sign-up their kids to play in organized sports leagues, happy in the belief that their little ones will, among other things, get their recommended daily amount of exercise. Remarkably, a new study suggests these parents are mistaken.

Federal guidelines call for kids to get a minimum of one hour per day’s worth of moderate-to-vigorous exercise. But scientists at San Diego State and the UCSD found that on average, only 24% of youth participants on organized soccer, softball and baseball teams met this minimum standard.

To reach these conclusions, Desiree Leek and colleagues recruited 200 kids between the ages of 7 and 14 that belonged to 29 teams from community sports leagues in San Diego County. The scientists asked the kids to wear accelerometers during practices and games.

Most kids practiced twice per week and participated in 1-2 games per week. Team practice times ranged from 40-130 minutes for soccer and 35-217 minutes for softball and baseball. Despite these lengthy practice times, the kids averaged 45.1 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) per work-out.

Participants on soccer teams (+13.7 minutes), boys (+10.7 minutes), and those aged 7 to 10 years (+7.0 minutes) got significantly more MVPA than their counterparts. Incredibly, less than 10% of kids in the 11-to 14-age bracket, and only 2% of girl softball players met the 60-minute guideline.

“Though participation in organized sports contributes to overall physical activity…sports participation is not sufficient to ensure youth meet recommendations on practice days,” the authors concluded.

In part, this turns out to be because kids are inactive for long stretches of these “organized” practices while they receive instructions from coaches or wait in line to take batting practice or run a drill.

“The health effects of youth sports could be improved by adopting policies and practices that ensure youth obtain sufficient physical activity during practices,” wrote the authors, who suggested among other things, “emphasizing participation over competition, sponsoring teams for all skill levels across all ages…increasing practice frequency, extending short seasons, using pedometers or accelerometers to monitor physical activity periodically during practices, providing coaches strategies to increase physical activity, and supporting youth and parents in obtaining adequate physical activity on nonpractice days.”

And remember, these practices and games occur only 3-4 days per week. Parents need to assure their kids get enough exercise every day.

The write-up appears in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.



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