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It’s a bird… It’s a plane… It’s Veggie Man?

With names like Miki Mushroom, Zach Zucchini and Suzie Sweet Pea, these super heroes may not scare off many criminals. But they are pretty effective in another notorious fight parents tackle every day — getting kids to eat their veggies.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says a healthful diet is something that children need to start when they’re young to contribute to proper growth and development and prevent different health conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

When kids have a bad diet, it can increase the risk of becoming overweight or obese.

In a study led by a researcher from The Ohio State University, elementary school students were introduced to the vegetable heroes “Super Sprowtz” through banners and videos in lunchrooms.

Case study: Marketing for good

Marketing to children is controversial in some circles. But Dr. Andrew Hanks, a researcher at Ohio State’s Food Innovation Center, said this study illuminates its potential if done well and with the best interest of kids in mind.

If we put the time and good resources into marketing healthful choices to kids, it can work.

Hanks said marketing the characters to students can improve nutrition, performance in school and behavior. The interventions don’t need to be costly.
“We can harness the power of marketing to help us.”

Hanks and the research team tested three interventions in 10 public elementary schools in urban New York State.

In some, they wrapped the bottom portion of the salad bar with a vinyl banner depicting the super veggies. In others, they played Super Sprowtz videos in the lunch room. And in others, they tried both tactics.

In schools with the salad bar banners, the researchers saw 24 percent of kids taking vegetables from the salad bars, almost double what they’d observed in the weeks leading up to the change.

In those schools that had characters on the salad bar and on video, veggie selection jumped from 10 percent to almost 35 percent.

The researchers saw no significant improvement in schools with videos alone.

In some cases, students ate from the salad bar three times as much.

“If we can encourage kids to take vegetables of their own accord, rather than have someone put it there for them, they’re much more likely to eat them,” Hanks said.