An interesting study recently reported in the New York Times Well blog found that children exposed to a fat jelly bean cartoon character later consumed more candy than kids shown a thin version of the same character.
Specifically, 60 eighth graders were shown either a thin or fat version of the jelly bean character and asked to comment on the image. At the end of the interview, researchers gestured to a bowl of a candy and invited the children to take some. Children shown the fat character took 3.8 candies on average, compared with 1.7 taken by children shown the lean version.
All of this goes to show how susceptible we all are to the subliminal cues which can influence our eating, such as the size of our dinner plate, the tempo of the music played around us, the color of the restaurant’s walls — and, apparently, the sight of an obese cartoon character.
In this regard, the jelly bean study reminded me of a widely reported 2007 Harvard study which found that obesity is “contagious” –i.e., our chances of becoming obese increase significantly if those in our immediate social circle become obese. According to that study’s lead researcher, this result may be due to the fact that “you change your idea of what is an acceptable body type by looking at the people around you.”
The good news is, the obesity cue can apparently be counteracted. In a similar follow-up study using the same fat/thin jelly bean characters, the researchers found they were able to entirely cancel out the fat jelly bean’s effect on sweets consumption if children were first asked to discuss healthy habits before they were offered sweets.
Yet more support for the importance of solid health and nutrition education for our kids.
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