A new study found that children who spend time playing video games with candy advertisements are more likely to eat sweets.
Previous studies showed that food advertising has great impacts on kids' eating behaviors. Because most of the food items being advertised are unhealthy yet attractive, childhood obesity is being linked to the said marketing strategy.
A team of international researchers, led by Frans Folkvord, a behavioral scientist at Radboud University, delved into the effects of online games embedded with hidden food advertisements to the eating behavior of more than 1,000 children.
Children who played games with food advertisements ate 55 percent more of the candy offered to them than those who played games with toy advertisements.
The interesting thing is, even if the games are not about fruit or candy, the participants ate more candy after engaging themselves in a game that features a food advertisement. In fact, when the kids were given a five-minute break in between playing games, they ate 72 percent more calories (16 M&Ms or 10 candy cola bottles) than children in controlled environments.
Heavier kids, heavier impacts
The researchers made a follow-up after two years. While there are no links found between eating candy and having a higher body mass index (BMI), the authors found that the choice they made during the experiment did have a significant effect.
"These children had apparently learned to make healthier choices," said Folkvord.
The children who chose an apple to satisfy their hunger in the middle of playing online video games were found to have lower BMIs two years after the experiment, compared to those who selected candy.
The impact of the advertisements in the overall eating behavior of kids signals that it is high time to discuss food commercials that target children. Folkvord is currently in collaboration with the University of Barcelona to create a recommendation to the European Union.
The situation goes like this: a child plays an online game, gets hungry and looks for snacks. The cycle persists and in the process, children fail to be aware of healthy eating habits. The study may even have much bigger impacts on children who are already overweight.
Ad Or Not?
The researchers also found that out of the two-thirds of primary school kids playing video games at least once a week, only six percent are aware that the food "advergames" are actually marketing moves. Even when the brand is clearly shown, kids do not recognize it as advertisements meant to entice them.
Folkvord said that unlike television where the concepts of commercials are limited, thus giving people more power to be selective, online ads are mixed with a range of different content. He added that websites of food companies also feature various games that are shareable to their friends, widening the scope of affected kids.
The study was published in the journal Current Options in Behavioral Sciences.
Photo: Neeta Lind | Flickr