Cartoon figures turn children on to fruit and veg

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A cartoon loosely based on Popeye has doubled the consumption of fruit and vegetables by children in inner cities.

A cartoon loosely based on Popeye has doubled the consumption of fruit and vegetables by children in inner cities.

The show, developed by psychologists, features characters called the Food Dudes, who gain special powers after eating their greens.

Trials in Brixton, south London, showed that children aged four to 11 ate almost twice as much fruit and vegetables after watching the show. Now the Department of Health is testing Food Dudes in 20 schools in Plymouth and Dagenham to see if it should be adopted nationally.

When Popeye was first screened in the Thirties, consumption of spinach among American children went up by 33 per cent. The iron-rich vegetable, which gave Popeye incredible muscles, became the third most popular children's food after turkey and ice cream.

Dr Katy Tapper of the University of Wales said the Food Dudes – Charlie, who loves carrots, Tom, who adores tomatoes, Raz, who love raspberries and Rocco, who likes broccoli – were winning over British pupils by portraying fruit and veg as "cool".

When she presented her results to the British Psychological Society's annual conference in Blackpool yesterday, she said: "The whole British culture is of vegetables not being very nice. The idea is to change the anti-veg culture in schools so that children have good eating habits from the start."

Under the programme developed by Dr Tapper's team, children are shown six short videos of the Food Dudes over a three-week period, during which they are given special stickers if they taste fruit and veg and small prizes if they eat whole portions.

When children at a Brixton school went on the programme, they ate 36 per cent of the fruit at the start and 79 per cent at the end. When researchers checked on the school at a later stage, the pupils were still eating 59 per cent of their lunchtime greens.

In a control school near by, where there was no intervention, consumption of fruit and vegetables was much lower.

A recent poll showed one in 20 children had eaten no vegetables in the past week and one in 17 had eaten no fruit.

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