Invoking super heroes such as Batman or Superman could help parents get their children to eat healthy, says a study.
Just as Popeye inspired a generation to eat spinach, these role models could help children make healthy choices, according to Brian Wansink, professor of marketing and director of the University of Cornell Food and Brand Lab.
Wansink, with post-doctoral researcher Mitsuru Shimizu and visiting graduate student Guido Camps of Utrecht University, the Netherlands, conducted a study involving a group of children, aged six to 12 years, who were asked if they wanted "apple fries" (thinly sliced raw apples) or French fries during several consecutive Wednesday lunches, the journal Paediatric Obesity reported.
During one of those lunches, the children were first presented with 12 photos of real and fictional role models and asked: "Would this person order apple fries or French fries?"
The researchers hypothesized that children who thought admirable models would eat well would activate positive associations towards healthful food and become more likely to choose apple fries over French fries, said a university statement.
The results supported this theory: 45 percent of the children selected apple fries after viewing pictures of super heroes and other role models, compared with the nine percent who chose apple fries during other lunches with no prompts.
"Simply instructing a parent to order healthier food for a child is neither empowering for a child nor easy for a parent," Wansink said. "Advising a parent to ask their child 'What would Batman eat?' might be a realistic step to take in what could be a healthier fast-food world.
"On average, children who selected apple fries consumed only 34 calories whereas children who selected French fries consumed 227 calories. That's almost seven times as many calories just from the side dish of the meal," he added.
"If you eat fast food once a week, a small switch from French fries to apple fries could save your children almost three pounds of weight a year," Wansink concluded.