The effect of images of Michelle Obama's face on trick-or-treaters' dietary choices: A randomized control trial

PLoS One. 2018 Jan 2;13(1):e0189693. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0189693. eCollection 2018.


Objective: To evaluate the microfoundations of a personality-inspired public health campaign's influence on minors.

Design: Multi-year randomized control trial.

Setting: Economics professor's front porch in New Haven, CT.

Participants: 1223 trick-or-treaters in New Haven over three years; on average, 8.5 years old and 53% male (among children whose gender was identifiable).

Eligibility: Trick-or-treaters over the age of three that approached the house.

Intervention: Random assignment to the Michelle Obama side of the porch or the Comparison side of the porch.

Main outcome measure: Selection of fruit over candy.

Methods: Difference-in-means estimates.

Results: We estimate that viewing a photograph of Michelle Obama's face relative to control conditions caused children to be 19% more likely to choose fruit over candy.

Conclusions: Michelle Obama's initiative to reduce childhood obesity has influenced children's dietary preferences. Whether this influence extends beyond Halloween trick-or-treating in New Haven, CT on the porch of an economics professor requires further research.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Food Preferences*
  • Humans
  • Male

Grant support

The resources for this study (to reimburse the candy purses) were provided by a Yale University research account but not through any specific funding opportunity. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.