Pretty Packaging: Can Attractive Packaging Lead to Healthier Eating?
AbstractHave you ever bought or tried something new, just because of the way it looked, or the nice box that it came in? On your birthday, which present do you pick to open first? The one that looks big and colorful and exciting or the one that is wrapped in old tissue paper? The way that something is packaged and wrapped often advertises what is inside. But can attractive, exciting packaging convince you to try something that might not be very exciting, but is, perhaps, something that is good for you? In this human behavior science fair project you will investigate whether exciting packaging can convince children to eat healthier foods.
Michelle Maranowski, PhD, Science Buddies
This project is based on the following California State Science Fair project: Beecher, A. (2008). Could a Cute Package Make Kids Eat More Healthy Food? California State Science Fair 2008.
The goal of this human behavior science fair project is to investigate whether exciting packaging can convince children to eat healthier foods.
Have you every walked down the cereal aisle in the grocery store while helping with the grocery shopping? Perhaps you've noticed that many of the cereals aimed at children have colorful and exciting boxes or packaging. But what is packaging and what is the function of packaging? Packaging is a product's container, label, and graphic design. Its purpose is to protect its contents from damage, to provide information to the consumer, and to add appeal to the product.
A product's packaging also acts as the product's "salesman" The packaging promotes the product, it attracts the consumer's attention, and it encourages impulse buying. Many of the products that are targeted for children, like candy and treats, are brightly colored and have innovative packaging, because that is what attracts children. In 2006, major food and beverage marketers spent over 1 billion dollars promoting their products to kids under the age of 17 years. Included in this amount is the cost of fancy packaging.
Recently, diet, health, and nutrition have been featured heavily in the media. According to the World Health Organization, over 1 billion adults and 22 million children (under the age of 5 years) worldwide are overweight. Many food and beverage companies have received negative feedback that colorful packaging and the use of cartoon characters to advertise nutritionally poor foods leads to poor eating, and that they should stop using these techniques to sell to children.
But what would happen if the tables were turned? What would happen if colorful packaging contained healthy food, like carrots? Would children be attracted to the packaging and eat the carrots? In this human behavior science fair project, you will investigate if colorful packaging can convince 1st graders to eat carrots. Have fun doing this project, and don't forget to eat your carrots!
Terms and Concepts
- Impulse buying
- Control group
- Leading questions
- What is the purpose of packaging?
- Do you like to buy things in colorful packaging? Look through your pantry and investigate if packaging plays a factor in how your family shops for food.
- Look through your pantry and refrigerator. Does healthy food come packaged in exciting and colorful packaging?
Materials and Equipment
- Test subjects, 1st graders (at least 40). You will need to test two different classes, each with an approximately even mix of boys and girls. If you do not have two 1st-grade classes at the school you visit, you will need to find another school with a second class of the same number of 1st graders to test.
- Brown paper lunch bags (20, more if you are testing more than 40 1st graders)
- Colored paper lunch bags (20, more if you are testing more than 40 1st graders). Try to find bags that are red, green, or blue, such as at a party store.
- Stickers, crayons, markers or any other kind of craft item that can be used to decorate the colored paper bags
- Baby carrots (5 pounds [lb.])
- Paper towels (1 roll)
- Disposable plastic gloves. Can be purchased at a local drug store or pharmacy, or through an online supplier like Carolina Biological Supply Company. Caution: If any of your test subjects are allergic to latex, use vinyl or polyethylene gloves.
- Food storage container
- Volunteer the same age that you are (1)
- Lab notebook
Preparing the Experiment
Since you will be working with human subjects, you need to get advance permission from the children's parents or guardians (and teachers if you are performing the test while they are in school) to make sure that it is alright for the children to participate in the science fair project. There are special considerations when designing an experiment involving human subjects. Intel ISEF-affiliated (International Science and Engineering) fairs often require an Informed Consent Form for every participant who is questioned. Consult the rules and regulations of the science fair that you are entering, prior to performing experiments or surveys. Please refer to the following Science Buddies document for additional important requirements for studies involving human subjects: Scientific Review Committee (SRC).
- Write a clear description of your science fair project, what you are studying, and what you hope to learn. Include how the child will be tested and that you will be using carrots in your study. Include a paragraph where you get a parent's or guardian's, and/or teacher's signature.
- Print out as many copies as you need for each child you will be surveying.
- Pass them out to the children or to the teachers of the children to give to the parents. You must have permission for each child in order to be able to use them as a test subject.
- Get permission from your school and the 1st graders' school to perform this human behavior science fair project before lunch in the 1st-grade classrooms.
- Decorate the colored paper bags with stickers and markers beforehand. Do not use any words. Try to make the decorations appeal to both 1st-grade boys and 1st-grade girls. Decorate the bags in approximately the same way, using the same number of stickers and craft items on each.
- Wash your hands and put on a pair of disposable gloves. Wash the carrots and dry them completely with paper towels. If you are preparing the carrots the night or day before you do the experiment, put the carrots in the storage container and put the container in the refrigerator.
- An hour before you go into the 1st-grade classroom, put on your disposable gloves again and put five carrots in each decorated bag and five carrots in each plain brown paper bag. The five carrots should be about the same size. Fold the open end of each bag over. In your lab notebook, record how many carrots you put in the decorated paper bags, and how many carrots you put in the plain brown paper bags. The classroom of 1st graders that gets the plain brown paper bags will be the control group in this human behavior science fair project. The purpose of the control group is to minimize unintended influences and variations (such as kids that dislike carrots). Having a control in your human behavior science fair project leads to more trustworthy data.
- Decide between yourself and your volunteer, who will take the decorated paper bags and who will take the plain brown paper bags. Then decide who will go into which classroom.
Performing the Experiment
You and your volunteer should enter and address each group of 1st graders at the same time (if you are performing this at two different schools, you will not need a volunteer, and it's ok if you go on two different days). Practice what you are going to say beforehand, and be sure you stick to the same wording. Both you and your volunteer should address your group of 1st graders and let them know that you are doing a behavior project.
- Let them know that there is a snack in the bag and that they can choose to eat the snack or to not eat the snack. Do not mention that they are carrots.
- They also don't have to eat the whole snack, but if they don't finish the snack, they should put the uneaten portion back into the bag.
- You should also state that since this is a science project, that they should be quiet, not talk to their neighbors, and not share their snack.
- You and your volunteer should distribute the bags to the students, but don't let them open the bags up right away. Once the bags have been distributed to the students, go and stand quietly at the front of the classroom.
- Tell the students to open their bags, and start the timer. Give the children 7 minutes to eat the carrots. At the end of the 7 minutes, tell the students to swallow what is in their mouths and to stop eating any more carrots. Remind them to put whatever they haven't eaten back into their paper bags.
- Collect the bags and thank the children for participating and helping your with your human behavior science fair project.
- Meet your volunteer and collect his or her bags.
Go home and start counting how many carrots the children ate, as follows:
- Put on a pair of disposable gloves.
- Don't mix the bags, and start working either on the decorated paper bags or the plain brown paper bags.
- Record all of your data in your lab notebook, in a data table, like the one shown below. You should have a data table for the decorated paper bags and a data table for the plain brown paper bags.
- Count half and quarter portions, as well. For example, if a test subject ate part of a carrot, then estimate how much of the whole carrot it was.
|Type of Bag (Plain or Decorated)||The Number of Carrots Eaten (out of Five)|
Analyzing the Data
- Once you have finished counting carrots for both the decorated paper bags and the plain brown paper bags, discard the bags and the carrots. Remove your gloves and wash your hands.
- For each type of bag, sum the total number of carrots eaten. Record the data in a data table, like the one shown below.
|Bag||Total Number of Carrots Eaten||Percent Carrots Eaten|
- Since you know the number of carrots that you placed in the decorated paper bags and the plain brown paper bags, calculate the percent of the carrots eaten for each type of bag. Calculate the percent eaten for each type of bag by dividing the total number of carrots eaten in those bags by the total number of carrots placed in the bags and multiplying by 100. Does the packaging make a difference?
Ask an Expert
- Interview the 1st graders and see how the packaging affected them. Did any of the students notice the packaging? Did any of the students not notice the packaging? Hint: Make sure to avoid asking leading questions.
- As you collect the bags, mark each bag with the gender of the test subject. Investigate whether colorful packaging convinces one gender to eat more than the other gender.
- Does the type of decoration convince one gender to eat the healthier snack more than the other? Decorate the bags, either with what you think are boyish decorations or girlish decorations, and see if boys and girls prefer gender-specific decorations.
- Does color affect eating behavior? For example, do people think that blue packaging holds healthier foods than red packaging does? Do the experiment to find out.
If you like this project, you might enjoy exploring these related careers:
- Science Fair Project Guide
- Other Ideas Like This
- Human Behavior Project Ideas
- My Favorites
- Scientific Review Committee (SRC)