What would Batman eat?: priming children to make healthier fast food choices


  • Author Contributions: Study concept and design: Wansink, Camps, and Shimizu. Acquisition of data: Wansink, Camps, and Shimizu. Analysis and interpretation of data: Camps and Shimizu. Drafting of the manuscript: Wansink. Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: Shimizu and Wansink. Statistical analysis: Shimizu. Obtained funding: Wansink. Administrative, technical, and material support: Wansink and Shimizu. Study supervision: Wansink.
  • Financial Disclosure: Dr. Wansink receives royalties from the book, ‘Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think’ (2006).
  • Funding/Support: Dr Wansink received funding as the John S. Dyson Endowed Chair at Cornell University.

Address for correspondence: Dr B Wansink, Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University, 110 Warren Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA. E-mail: FoodandBrandLab@Cornell.edu



Fast food patronage is a frequent reality for many children and their parents. Although there are increasingly healthier alternatives for popular menu items (apple slices instead of French fries), they are infrequently selected.


We investigated whether either of two priming tactics – the priming of a role model's food choices or the priming of healthy foods – could influence children to make healthier fast food choices.


In the priming model condition, 22 children (ranging in age from 6 to 12 years) were presented with 12 photos of 6 admirable and 6 less admirable models and asked, ‘Would this person order apple fries or French fries?’ In the health prime condition, the same children were shown 12 photos of 6 healthy foods and 6 less healthy foods and asked to indicate if each food was healthy or unhealthy.


When children were asked what various admirable people – such as Batman or Spiderman – would eat, 45% chose apple slices over French fries, which was higher than the health prime (P < 0.001) or the control condition (P < 0.001).


Advising a parent to ask their child ‘What would Batman (or another admired character or person) eat?’ might be an easy step to take in what could be a healthier fast food world.