Candy Games on the Internet Nudge Kids to Eat

Posted 02/23/2016 | By HealthCorps

Kids are spending many hours a week, sitting and playing video games. That sedentary time is considered a strong risk factor for developing obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Also contributing to those risks is easy availability of highly processed sugary treats. According to a new study, at least once weekly (if not more), two thirds of primary-school age children will play with a video game that was specifically created to draw kids’ attention to a candy brand. A very small percentage of these kids actually understand that they are seeing a food ad. Researchers now believe those food ads drive eating.

These videogames are classified as “advergames,” internet games specifically made to draw attention to a brand. Many advergames have branding for snacks and candy. A behavioral scientist at Radboud University was the lead researcher in the study. He studied the eating behavior of more than 1000 kids who played these advergames. A separate follow up study also occurred at the two year mark.

Findings from the study

The actual study suggests several behavior implications:

• Most kids do not understand when a game is actually an advergame, meaning that it is an advertisement for a brand, even when logos are clear and obvious. They do not see these as parallels to commercials on TV.
• Regardless of whether the game is about candy or fruit, kids will eat more (usually a candy choice or soda pop) in the five minute break after the game is over.

Even two years later, it was obvious that among the kids who did choose to eat more, choosing fruit more often than candy was associated with a healthier and lower BMI. Higher BMI readings at the two year point were noted in the kids who mostly turned to candy to satisfy their amplified hunger after playing the internet games. Some kids did learn healthier choices, even if their appetites were stimulated.

Some important observations

Frans Folkvord, the lead researcher, noted that children play these games, get hungry, and reach for treats. This becomes a never-ending cycle of behavior, fueling unhealthy eating patterns and possibly weight gain. If the kids are already overweight very early on in life, these advergames will have an even greater influence on their feeding patterns and their weight.

This research and many other studies seem to suggest the strong need for decreasing (junk food) ads to kids, and the need for parents to highlight to children the unhealthy impact these types of games may have.

It can also help to have a discussion about true hunger versus emotional hunger. Teach your child about the hunger scale to help them understand levels of hunger.

Some other tips for parents:

• Make sure kids are sufficiently hydrated so that they don’t confuse thirst with hunger.
• Have healthy fruit and vegetable-based snacks with dips like hummus or yogurt. Small packs of nuts, a hard-boiled egg, a small yogurt and berries, or an apple and nut butter are healthy snacks.
• Control internet game choices by selecting those without food branding.

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