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Do Fat Cartoon Characters Make Kids Eat More?

Normal and Overweight Characters from Campbell et alAn intriguing new study from the Journal of Consumer Psychology raises the possibility that fat cartoon characters might lead kids to eat more junk food. With a hook like that, it was only a matter of time before health journalists picked up this work and translated it for public consumption. After all, the popular cartoon show Family Guy is only one of many to feature characters with obesity, along with some pretty appalling jokes about obesity.

The characters these researchers used (examples above) were pretty tame by comparison. And what they found was that when kids from 6 to 14 years of age were exposed to fatter cartoon characters, they took more candies and cookies than when exposed to thinner characters. But they also found that introducing a little bit of health information neutralized the effect.

Well, the New York Times (as well as other publications) picked up the story and naturally it made for some pretty entertaining reading. But is there really much news value here? After all, we are practically drowning in cues to eat junk food. Looking at fat cartoon characters is probably way down the list of “risk factors.”

The subtext is what’s really annoying. The notion is that there’s a problem with looking upon people or fictional characters with obesity. It surfaces in many other venues where people fret about “normalizing obesity.” It surfaces when people suggest that a physician (for example) with obesity might be a “bad example.” Don’t laugh — they said it about Surgeon General Regina Benjamin.

It’s one more strange agenda that finds its way into discourse about obesity. We don’t need it.

Click here to read the story in the Times and here to read the study.

Watch TV, photograph © Anna Maria Liljestrand / flickr

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July 31, 2015