Fat cartoon characters cause kids to eat cookies and other unhealthy, high-calorie junk food, according to a study out of the University of Colorado Boulder.
The study specifically singles out Grimace, a loveable, purple, blob-like character from McDonaldland who enjoys milkshakes.
Kids respond favorably the egg-like shape of Grimace and similar pudgy characters, the study concludes, and consequently are psychologically primed to eat large quantities of foods which are not nutritious.
Lead professor Margaret C. Campbell and three co-authors published the study last month in the Journal of Consumer Psychology. Its title is: “Kids, cartoons, and cookies: Stereotype priming effects on children’s food consumption.”
“Because research like this is new — looking at kids and stereotyping particularly of cartoon characters — we weren’t sure whether kids would be aware of body weight norms,” Campbell, a CU-Boulder marketing professor said in a press release. “But surprisingly, they apply typically human standards to cartoon creatures.”
Kids who view corpulent imaginary characters “have a tendency to eat almost twice as much indulgent food as kids who are exposed to perceived healthier looking cartoon characters or no characters at all,” Campbell also said.
Children who were nagged about healthy foods and other good behaviors (e.g., going to bed at a reasonable hour) were less likely to consume as much junk food.
“This is key information we should continue to explore,” Campbell declared. “Kids don’t necessarily draw upon previous knowledge when they’re making decisions. But perhaps if we’re able to help trigger their health knowledge with a quiz just as they’re about to select lunch at school, for instance, they’ll choose the more nutritious foods.”
The marketing professor also moralized that food vendors should be “a lot more responsible with their own marketing choices.”
The subjects of the study were 300 kids aged 8, 12 and 13.
Grimace is one of the characters residing in McDonaldland, according to McDonald’s Wikia. He was once known as the “Evil Grimace” and was intent on stealing beverages — especially shakes. He later evolved into a friendly, clumsy character. Grimace’s uncle, Uncle O’Grimacey, is responsible for bringing delicious shamrock shakes to McDonaldland, an imaginary region.
The University of Colorado study conventionally appears to avoid mention of Hamburglar, a svelte, masked villain whose primary objective in life is to steal hamburgers. Unlike Grimace, Hamburglar is thin and athletic. He is often seen running gracefully — presumably from hamburger theft to hamburger theft.
In addition to star Ronald McDonald, other characters in McDonaldland include Mayor McCheese, The Happy Meal Gang, the McNugget Buddies and Sundae, Ronald’s pet dog.
The mascot of the University of Colorado Boulder is a buffalo. The school keeps a live one for special events. The current live mascot is Ralphie V, a 500-pound female.