Reducing the extent and persuasive power of marketing unhealthy foods to children worldwide are important obesity prevention goals. Research is limited to understand how brand mascots and cartoon media characters influence children's diet. We conducted a systematic review of five electronic databases (2000-2014) to identify experimental studies that measured how food companies' mascots and entertainment companies' media characters influence up to 12 diet-related cognitive, behavioural and health outcomes for children under 12 years. Eleven studies met the inclusion criteria. Studies used 21 unique popular media characters, but no brand mascots. Results suggest that cartoon media character branding can positively increase children's fruit or vegetable intake compared with no character branding. However, familiar media character branding is a more powerful influence on children's food preferences, choices and intake, especially for energy-dense and nutrient-poor foods (e.g. cookies, candy or chocolate) compared with fruits or vegetables. Future research should use a theoretically grounded conceptual model and larger and more diverse samples across settings to produce stronger findings for mediating and moderating factors. Future research can be used to inform the deliberations of policymakers, practitioners and advocates regarding how media character marketing should be used to support healthy food environments for children.
Keywords: Brand mascots; children; diet; food marketing; media characters.
© 2014 The Authors. Obesity Reviews published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of World Obesity.