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Healthy snacks: Cartoon stickers make kids eat better

Healthy snacks are more appealing for kids when there's a cartoon sticker, says study.

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Healthy foods were more attractive to kids when they were adorned with cartoon stickers featuring characters like Elmo.

Joel Ryan/AP

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Can Elmo make children like apples?

For children who turn up their noses at fruits and vegetables, slapping a cartoon face on a healthy snack may make those choices more appealing, according to a U.S. study.

Researchers, whose findings appeared in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, discovered that when elementary school students were offered apples and cookies with lunch, children were more likely to opt for an apple when it was branded with a cartoon sticker - such as one of the "Sesame Street" character Elmo.

"If we're trying to promote healthier foods, we need to be as smart as the companies that are selling the less-healthy foods," said David Just, co-director of the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Program, who worked on the study.

Noting that cartoon characters and flashy advertising often don cookie and candy packaging, he added, "The message should be: fight fire with fire."

Just and his colleagues offered cookies and apples to 208 eight- to 11-year-olds at suburban and rural schools every day at lunch for a week. Children were allowed to choose an apple, a cookie or both, along with their normal meal.

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