Sesame Workshop this week received a grant from the Dr. Robert C. Atkins Foundation to further study how well Elmo sells broccoli.
The Atkins foundation will give $73,000 to the non-profit producer of Sesame Street to expand its research project “The Effectiveness of Characters on Children’s Food Choices” (known less formally as “The Elmo/ Broccoli Study”). Sesame Workshop reported initial results at the Federal Trade Commission Workshop on Childhood Obesity in July: Preschoolers were more likely to choose broccoli over chocolate when the broccoli had an Elmo sticker on it (and the chocolate had a sticker of an unknown character). Half the kids chose Elmo-enhanced broccoli; only 22% chose broccoli over chocolate with no character stickers.
The research also showed that three-year-olds choose healthy foods, but five-year-olds choose less healthy options, even though they know the difference.
“Doing something around age three to four can help kids establish good habits,” said Jennifer Kotler, director for knowledge management for Sesame Workshop’s Department of Education and Research, when she presented the research at the FTC workshop, adding: “It takes 12 to 15 tries before a kid likes a food.”
The Atkins grant will fund a broader study that uses real foods rather than photos (as in the first study), and will fund research to see the impact of product placement (broccoli, not chocolate) in Sesame Street episodes. Research begins as early as fall, with results as early as fall 2006.