Superheroes like Batman and Spiderman do more than fight crime on the imaginary streets of comic books. A new study has found they may also get children to make healthier food choices.
Cornell University researchers found that superhero role models were able to get kids to eat more healthy foods, simply by modeling good nutritional choices, just as Popeye inspired a generation of growing Baby Boomers to eat spinach.
The study, fancifully titled “What Would Batman Eat?” and published in the journal Pediatric Obesity, highlights a new way to improve the diets of American children and teens – one in three of whom are overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Fast food patronage is a frequent reality for many children and their parents. Simply instructing a parent to order healthier food for a child is neither empowering for a child nor easy for a parent," said researcher Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab. "Advising parents to ask their child, 'What would Batman eat?' might be a realistic step to take in what could be a healthier fast-food world."
For the study, Wansink and colleagues tracked 22 children – aged 6 to 12 years – at a summer camp, who were asked if they wanted apple fries or French fries during lunch. About 45 percent of the children selected apple fries after being shown pictures of superheroes and other role models and asked: “Would this person order apple fries or French fries?” That compared to just 9 percent who chose apple fries with no superhero prompts.
"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," Wansink said. "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."