Dieters and Madison Avenue have long known that seeing a favorite junk food is the same as craving it. In fact, researchers have found that the yearning is both automatic and biochemical: For one group of research subjects, just looking at a picture of food increased their levels of the appetite-increasing hormone ghrelin.
Now researchers are speculating that the image-equals-appetite reaction could also make kids crave healthy foods. A study published in this month’s Journal of the American Medical Association found that kids who were served lunch on trays lined with pictures of vegetables were almost three times more likely to choose carrot sticks or green beans from the lunch line.
It’s not clear, of course, whether contemplating a picture of a cucumber or some sexy tomatoes could make most kids pass up a burger, given the option. But the study does suggest that banning ads for junk food could be effective, and not just for improving kids’ diets. We decided that it was a bad idea to advertise tobacco, didn’t we? Clearly, the focus of current antiobesity campaigns—the whole fat-shaming thing—isn’t working. Maybe now, in the light of this study, we should try the carrot instead of the stick?