With his bulging biceps and vegetarian diet, Popeye is credited with urging millions of youngsters to eat spinach since the 1930s. But now the cartoon sailor man's impact on children's eating habits has been recognised by scientific research. Experts found that children who regularly watched Popeye scoffing spinach before his animated bouts with his arch-rival Bluto, doubled their vegetable intake. The youngsters, aged four and five, ate four portions of vegetables a day after watching the cartoon hero compared to two before the study.
Professor Chutima Sirikulchayanonta, who led the research at Mahidol University in Bangkok, said: “We got the children planting vegetable seeds, taking part in fruit and vegetable tasting parties, cooking vegetable soup, and watching Popeye cartoons.”
Researchers said that the experiment, which also encouraged children to plant their own vegetables, led to the 26 volunteers taking more interest in eating healthily.
Prof Sirikulchayanonta added that Popeye did not influence an increase in the children's fruit consumption, but that this was possibly because they already enjoyed plenty of fruit in their diet.
The findings of the study are published in journal Nutrition & Dietetics.
Research earlier this year found that sales of tinned spinach, like the kind eaten by Popeye, rose by 24 per cent last year to become one of Britain's fastest selling canned vegetables.
Popeye, who was created by Elzie Crisler Segar for the Thimble Theatre comic strip and first appeared on screen in 1933, is credited with helping save the US spinach industry in the 1930s.
His influence in boosting sales among children was recognised by the spinach-growing community in Crystal City, Texas, who erected a statue of the fictional sailor in 1937.
Popeye has not regularly been seen on British television since The Popeye Show – the most recent incarnation of the cartoon – ended its run in 2004. The cartoons are still aired in Asia.