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.
For many parents, dealing with an overweight child is a delicate issue. These four steps can put you and your child on the right path to a healthier lifestyle.
An important first step is to let your overweight child know she's OK, whatever her weight. A child's feelings about herself often reflect her parents' feelings about her. For example, if your child gets the message that you are unhappy with the way she looks, that impacts how she feels about herself. If you accept your child at any weight, and emphasize her strengths (e.g., good grades, musical talent, leadership skills), she learns how to feel good about herself. Let your child know she can talk openly with you and share her concerns about her weight. This issue may come up when she is shopping for clothes, participating in an athletic event or donning a bathing suit when it's time to hit the beach or pool. Your child probably knows better than anyone else that her weight is an issue. For that reason, she needs your support, acceptance and encouragement.
Focus On the Family.
Don't set your overweight child apart because of his weight or make a special issue out of it. Instead, make gradual, healthful changes in the whole family's physical activity and eating habits. Family involvement helps to teach everyone healthful habits and does not single out the overweight child as “being on a diet.” Changing the family environment provides your overweight child with the support he needs.
Increase Your Family's Physical Activity.
Regular physical activity, combined with good eating habits, is a must for promoting a healthy weight–and good health–among the whole family. Below are some simple ways to get the whole family moving:
- Be a role model for your children. If your children see you enjoying regular physical activity, they're more likely to get active and stay active for life.
- Plan family activities that are fun for everyone such as walking, dancing, biking or swimming. For example, schedule a walk with your family after dinner instead of watching TV. Make sure the activities you plan are done in a safe environment.
- Be sensitive to your child's needs. Overweight children may feel uncomfortable about participating in certain activities. Help your child find physical activities he enjoys and that aren't embarrassing or too difficult.
- Reduce the amount of time you and your family spend in sedentary activities such as watching TV or playing video games.
- Find ways for you and your family to be more active throughout the day. For example, walk up the stairs instead of taking the elevator, do some stretching during a work or school break, or encourage your child to walk to and from school, if possible.
- If your child likes structured sports activities or classes, sign him up and support his regular participation.
Teach Your Family Healthy Eating Habits Right from the Start.
Teaching good eating habits early and by example will help children develop a healthy attitude about food–that it's enjoyable, and required for energy to keep the body running right and to grow properly. Parents should provide children with the structure of regular meals and snacks, and choose the foods offered. Parents should allow children to choose what to eat from among the foods offered and how much.
To learn more about nutrition for children, make an appointment with Nastaran. See your doctor if you think your child has a serious weight problem.