The Impact of Cartoon Characters and Front-of-Package (FOP) Nutrition Information on Parental Perceptions of Children’s Food Products
Sae Yang, Wiworn
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Childhood obesity is a major public health issue. Canada has one of the highest childhood obesity rates in the world. Food advertising and marketing have contributed to the rapid rise in childhood obesity. High energy and low nutrient foods have been promoted directly to children through attractive imagery on packages, including the use of popular cartoon characters. Children’s food packaging also features a range of nutrition information targeted at parents, including nutrition claims; however, there is relatively little research on the impact of these nutrition claims and the extent to which they may interact with child-friendly imagery to influence parents’ perception of food quality. The current study used a 2 x 2 experimental design to examine the effect of four front-of-package (FOP) nutrition information and four cartoon characters on parental perceptions of children’s food products. Participants consisted of 897 parents recruited across Canada through GMI, a market research company. Participants were over 18, had at least one child between ages 4-10 and the primary shopper of their household. Participants completed an online survey in July 2011. Participants were shown images of food products with or without cartoon characters and with or without FOP nutrition information and were asked to rate the food product on appeal, nutritional quality, intention to buy and willingness to pay. Participants were also asked to rate the FOP nutrition information on believability, ease of understanding and perceived effectiveness. Linear mixed modelling examined the influence of cartoon characters, FOP nutrition information and socio-demographic factors on these outcomes. Results indicated that cartoon characters increased product appeal and FOP nutrition information increased the perceived nutritional quality of food products with low nutritional value. No significant differences were observed for intention to buy or willingness to pay. There was no consistent pattern between socio-demographic factors and product rating outcomes. For FOP nutrition information ratings, Health Check and Source of Fibre were rated more believable, easier to understand and more effective overall than Sensible Solution and Given the Thumbs Up by Kids. Overall, the findings indicate that cartoon characters can increase the perceived appeal and FOP nutrition information can increase the perceived nutritional quality of food products with low nutritional value.