Part of a Complete Breakfast: Licensed Food and Healthy Eating Habits

iStock_000002257318MediumThe surgeon general has long since established that licensed products and cartoon sponsorship have an impact on children’s lifelong health and fitness habits. While we may have banished cartoons from cigarette advertisements, we still allow their allure to negatively influence our children’s eating habits. Instead of vanquishing beloved characters from our pantries and our grocer’s freezer, Serious Play For Serious Girls is taking a serious look at which specific products recklessly use pester power to sell non-nutritious foods and how licensed products can use their sway to actually inspire healthy life-long eating habits. We’re going to the mattresses and we’re taking all “part of a complete breakfast” cereals with us.

Obesity is now the number one health issue among children in the US, which is a direct reflection of the messages we’re sending our children about nutrition. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has predicted that, unless significant changes improve the present trends, 30 to 40 percent of generation Z (children born between the mid 1990’s and 2010) will develop diabetes during the course of their lifetimes (1). This is of particular concern for girls since a 2001 study, published in the American Diabetes Association’s journal of Clinical Diabetes, found that type 2 diabetes is more prevalent among young females than young males (2).

In a 2005 survey, Andrea Geeson, Chief Public Relations Executive for the video-based qualitative research firm Vox Pops International, asked a small group of children and their parents about their experiences with licensed products. Parents reported feeling frustrated by the lack of nutritional content in licensed food products and by the high price and low quality of many licensed products. Several parents expressed resentment at the fact that so many licensed children’s products rely on pester power specifically because parents wouldn’t otherwise choose to purchase them due to low nutritional value, poor quality, or high prices. When it came to the nutritional content of licensed food products, one mother confessed to giving in to her daughter’s requests for a branded yogurt which had little nutritional substance and secretly replacing the container’s contents with a healthier bio yogurt (3). Of course, not all licensed food products foster poor eating habits. Bob the Builder and Dora the Explorer, in particular, have begun to prove that the characters on the box can help make healthy cereals and yogurts even more desirable to fussy young eaters than the sugar-laden competition.

So which cereals are part of a complete breakfast like chocolate cake is part of the food pyramid? Which products have the most sway over young girls? Which products instigate temper tantrums? What contributes to a product’s pester power? And which products are most frequently banned from the pantry? These are just some of the questions we’re working to answer. We’re also surveying parents to identify their specific concerns about their own daughter’s eating habits as well as the primary methods they utilize to monitor, influence, and encourage healthy household eating habits.

We’re conducting our own interviews to find out how much sway cartoons have over girls’ breakfast cereal and yogurt preferences. You can view our recorded interviews via YouTube as they’re conducted and we’ll post our research findings once we’ve collected sufficient data.

If you’re a parent of one or more daughters under the age of 18, we’d appreciate if you’d take a few minutes to take our surveys:

Licensed Products in the Pantry

Maintaining Healthy Household Eating Habits

Thanks in advance for your participation and contribution, and stay tuned for research updates.

1.Healthy children must be our goal. Robert W. Dunlevy. The Charleston Gazette. Charleston, W.V.: Jun 15, 2009. pg. A.4.

2. Levetan, Claresa. Into the Mouths of Babes: The Diabetes Epidemic in Children. Clinical Diabetes July 2001 vol. 19 no. 3 102-104.

3. Geeson, Andrea. What Kids and Parents Really Think About Licensing. Young Consumers. Quarter 4, 2006.

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