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Can Branding Improve School Lunches?

Wansink, Brian, David Just and Collin Payne (2012). Can branding improve school lunches? Preventive Medicine, 166(10): 967-968.  doi:10.1001/archpediatrics.2012.999

It has become a rising concern that increased branding in school lunchrooms can influence children to make poor food choices. The objective of this study was to see if branding could alternatively be used to induce healthier eating in the lunchroom. We set up a 5-day study of 208 students in 7 diverse elementary schools in New York State. On the first and last day of the study, students were offered their usual choice of an apple and/or cookie as a pretest and posttest. The middle three days of the study were intervention days. One day, children were offered an un-branded apple and a cookie with an Elmo sticker. On another day, they were offered an un-branded cookie and an apple with an Elmo sticker. The third intervention day included the choice between an un-branded cookie and an apple with a sticker of an unknown character. For these 5 days, the choices children made were recorded.

Our results show that the Elmo sticker had robust significant effects. Compared to the pretest, the apple choice nearly doubled when the Elmo sticker was present. There was no effect of the Elmo sticker on the cookie and no effect of the unknown character on the apple. Our study suggests that like attractive names for vegetables, appealing branding using characters can be used to boost the choice of healthy foods in preliterate children.