Toys can draw kids toward healthier choices

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: December 29th, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Health-conscious parents and nutrition experts have long decried the practice of distributing toys with fast-food meals, saying it lures children into eating fatty foods. But what if those toys were used to entice kids to make better choices?

Researchers in Wisconsin set out to learn more about the relationship between toys and kids’ eating habits. Through their experiments, they found the desire for a toy — especially one missing from a collectible set — could influence children to choose a healthy meal of soup, mixed vegetables and milk.

For the study, eight-five preschoolers, ages 2 to 5, were shown cards that depicted meal combinations. One of the meal combinations was a personal pizza with lots of toppings, french fries and a soda. Another was the soup, veggies and milk. These cards were paired with three different options: no toy, a toy truck that was not part of a collectible set or a collectible toy monster.

According to their findings, the kids rated the meals with toys as more likeable than those without toys. The meals with a collectible toy were rated highest of all, no matter whether it was soup or pizza. When toys were taken out of the equation, the fatty food trumped the healthier choice.

Parents were on board with the concept of using toys to entice kids to make better choices. Seventy-three percent said they would support using the toys in such a manner, while 92 percent were strongly against the use of collectible toys in less healthy meals.

Meanwhile, bans on the use of toys by fast food restaurants have sprung up in California and are under consideration in New York and other cities.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 17 percent of children ages 2 to 19 are obese. Are toys the best way to entice them to choose carrots over French fries? It remains to be seen, but it makes veggies look tastier to tots.