Online games promoting food items prompt children to consume more energy-dense foods – regardless of the kind of food the games promote, suggests new research from the Netherlands.
The research, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, sought to investigate the snack choices of children aged 8-10 who played advergames featuring high calorie snacks compared to those who played games featuring fruit or non-food items.
They predicted that advergames promoting energy-dense snacks would increase the children’s intake of energy-dense snacks, while those promoting fruit would increase fruit intake – but they found that promotion of any food, whether fruit or energy-dense snacks, increased intake of energy-dense snacks.
“Our findings illustrate that fruit advergames can affect energy-dense snack intake rather than fruit intake,” the authors wrote. “The results of the current study advance the current knowledge base regarding advergames that promote energy-dense snacks and fruit by expanding the literature from selection and preferences to actual behaviour.”
They noted that previous research has suggested links between children’s exposure to advertising of energy-dense foods and increased consumption, and added that further investigation was required to fully understand how advergames and similar forms of digital marketing affect children’s snack choices.
A group of 270 children was split into four conditions: One played a game promoting confectionery, a second played a game promoting fruit, a third played a game promoting a non-food toy, and a fourth played no game. After five minutes of play, the children were allowed a snack from a selection of fruits and confectionery.
They found that children who played a game promoting food consumed much more energy than those who did not. Those who played the confectionery game consumed an average of 202 calories, and those who played the fruit game consumed 183 calories.
In contrast, those who played the toy-promoting game consumed an average of 130 calories, while those who played no game consumed 106 calories.
“Additional research is needed to examine the psychological mechanisms that can explain the individual susceptibility to advergames and to measure the effects of these games on the health-related behaviors of children,” the researchers wrote.
Source: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
First published online ahead of print doi: 10.3945/ajcn.112.047126.
“The effect of playing advergames that promote energy-dense snacks or fruit on actual food intake among children”
Authors: Frans Folkvord, Doeschka J Anschu¨tz, Moniek Buijzen, and Patti M Valkenburg