We all know how amazing superheroes can be, especially in the eyes of children, they go around rescuing people and saving lives as a matter of course. Unfortunately the powers of a superhero can only go so far, yes they may be there to pull you from a burning car, or to rescue you as you fall from a 50 story building…but they can do nothing for you being attacked by those silent killers, sugar, fat and calories…or can they?
A study conducted at the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab has found that children may be primed into healthy eating by following the example of superheroes. It makes sense when you think about it, children love nothing more than getting their Batman, Spiderman or Superman outfit on ready to rampage the house, so why not prep their meals in a way that imitates (supposedly) the superheroes diet plan? This may seem a far-fetched and optimistic way to encourage better eating in children, but researchers have good evidence to suggest that children may make better food choices by simply thinking about what their favourite superhero would eat/ drink.
Ask the question…
One of the first steps to changing/ nurturing a child’s mind-set to better eating is asking them what THEY think their favourite superhero would eat or drink. If you can sew the seed that their superhero has always had a liking for carrots to help them see, and chicken to encourage their muscles to grow big and strong then you’re on the right path. An interesting experiment by Dr Wansink and Dr Shimizu from the University of Utrecht devised a clever tactic to try to encourage kids to opt for apple slices rather than French fries. In a group of 22 children, the 6-12 year olds were given the option of sliced apple or French fries from a fast food outlet, unsurprisingly the vast majority opted for the French fries with just 9.1% ordering the apple.
Embedding the healthy mind-set
In order to embed the positive and healthy association between superheroes and eating, the researchers decided to ask the children what they thought their favourite superheroes would choose to eat, with many of them suggesting fruit and veg because of the ‘healthy’ associations. This was a very interesting discovery! This proved that when given positive encouragement and prompting the children can make the ‘healthier’ food choice. The week after quizzing the children on the superheroes food choices, it was apparent that their food choices had changed with 45.5% of children selecting apple slices compared to just 9% in the previous group.
How this translates into health and well being
The outcome of this is that children who can be encouraged to opt for apple slices as a side to their meal will ultimately consume approx. 7x less calories than those that opt for fries! If you and your children consume fast food once a week, then this simple swap could result in a loss of 3lbs over the course of a year…and that’s just by making that 1 swap!
Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, (2012). What Would Batman Eat? Priming Children to Make Healthier Fast Food Choices. Retrieved 26th February, 2015, from http://foodpsychology.cornell.edu/outreach/batman.html
Wansink, B., Shimizu, M., & Camps, G. (2012). What would Batman eat? Priming children to make healthier fast food choices. Pediatric Obesity, 7(2), 121-123