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The image of Elmo may be all that's needed to get kids to eat more fruits and veggies, a new study suggests.
In the study, children were more likely to add an apple to their school lunch when it was adorned with a sticker of the popular children's TV character.
In contrast, adding an Elmo sticker to a cookie did not increase the likelihood of children choosing it, the study found.
While the cookie proved popular regardless of how it was presented, the findings suggest that the marketing tactic of using kid-friendly characters to promote unhealthy food to children also could be used to get kids to eat healthy foods, the researchers said.
"There is concern over what impact branded products in lunchrooms might have on children's selection of food," the researchers, who are from Cornell University, wrote in the August issue of the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. "This study suggests that the use of branding, or appealing branded characters, may benefit healthier foods more than indulgent, more highly processed foods."
About 200 children between ages 8 and 11 from seven schools took part in the five-day study. At lunchtime, they were allowed to choose an apple or cookie as part of their lunch (and could choose both if they wanted).
On the first day, neither the apple nor the cookie contained a sticker. On other days, the sticker was placed on either the apple or the cookie.
About 90 percent chose a cookie on the first day, and there was no significant change after the sticker was added to it.
However, the percentage of children who chose an apple nearly doubled — to close to 40 percent — when the sticker was added.
"Just as attractive names have been shown to increase the selection of healthier foods in school lunches, brands and cartoon characters can do the same," the researchers said.
Pass it on: Kids may be more likely to eat healthy foods if they are adorned with images of a popular children's TV character.