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What Would Batman Eat? Priming Children to Make Healthier Fast Food Choices

Wansink, Brian, Mitsuru Shimizu, and Guido Campes (2012). What would Batman eat?: priming children to make healthier fast food choices. Pediatric Obesity 7(2), 121-123. doi: 10.1111/j.2047-6310.2011.00003.x

Getting children to make healthy choices at fast food restaurants can be a daunting task.  With fast food restaurants offering up healthier choices, we wanted to see if priming children would cause them to change their eating behavior. We hypothesized that using affective or cognitive knowledge as a prime would cause them to make healthier eating choices.

Twenty-two children from a summer camp were recruited to participate in this study. The children ranged in age from six to twelve years, with thirteen of the participants being female. The study was conducted over four consecutive Wednesday lunches where each child was given the choice between apple slices and French fries from a fast food restaurant. Weeks one and four were control weeks, where children were simply asked their selection. During week two, an affective prime of six admirable people were presented to children. Children were asked privately, “Would this person order French fries or apple fries?” Children were then asked for their own selection. In the third week, a cognitive prime of healthy foods was shown, and children were asked if the food was healthy or not. They were then asked for their own selection.

From this research it is clear that the right prime, can cause children to make healthier food choices. During the control weeks, only 9.1% of children chose apple slices. However, when an affective prime of admirable models was used, 45.5% of children selected apple slices. The cognitive prime of healthy foods did not cause children to significantly choose the apple slices over French fries. This study has implications for parents who are trying to get their children to make healthier food choices as well as marketers who are trying to promote healthier foods.