FROM Homer Simpson to the cast of South Park, Porky Pig to Blue from Jungle Book.
Such names are instantly recognisable to generations who have grown up watching their antics on the small screen.
But, now experts have warned overweight cartoon characters could pose a risk to our waistlines.
The first study of its kind has revealed children are more likely to gorge on high-calorie treats, such as cookies and sweets, after watching seemingly overweight cartoon characters.
Researchers at the University of Colorado warned young people are sensitive to the bodyweight of their cartoon character idols.
A new study by scientists at the University of Colorado has found children who watch seemingly overweight cartoon characters, such as Shrek, are more likely to gorge on junk food
They said children tend to perceive ovoid, or egg-shaped characters as being overweight, even though the creatures are imaginary.
Professor Margaret Campbell, lead author of the study, said: ‘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 bodyweight norms.
‘But surprisingly, they apply typically human standards to cartoon characters – creatures for which there isn’t a real baseline.’
Furthermore, Professor Campbell said seeing ovoid cartoon characters influenced a child’s diet, encouraging them to eat more unhealthy food.
She said: ‘They 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.’
The inclination to eat more junk food was curtailed, however, when children taking part in the study first had the opportunity to draw on their previously learned health knowledge.
For example, before looking at the seemingly fat cartoon character and then taking the cookie taste-test, the children’s health knowledge was stimulated.
They were asked to choose the healthiest option, represented in six pairs of pictures and words, such as getting sleep versus watching TV, soda versus milk, and playing inside versus playing outside.
And in this instance, when the children were asked to draw on their health knowledge before watching the cartoon characters, the result was they ate fewer cookies.
Professor Campbell said: ‘This is key information we should continue to explore.
‘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 team’s findings, gathered from more than 300 participants across three age groups averaging eight, 12 and 13 years old, have implications for marketers as well a parents, she said.
‘What I would like to see is companies being a lot more responsible with their own marketing choices,’ said Professor Campbell.
‘I think it is important for parents to know they should think about the way they might be associating food with fun for kids – in the form of exposure to cartoon characters, for instance – as opposed to associating food with nutrition and the family structure.’
The Kellogg’s brand is an example of a company that changed the image of one of its cartoon characters in a responsible way, according to Professor Campbell.
Several years ago, it revamped Tony the Tiger to be slimmer and more athletic, which may link the character with healthier eating ideas rather than linking to ideas of eating lots of sugary cereal, she said.
The results of the new study are published online in the Journal of Consumer Psychology. – Daily Mail