July 10, 2009

The two-edged sword of online games

Online games may promote unhealthy foods but they could also effectively promote healthy foods, U.S. researchers suggest.

Tiffany Pempek and Sandra Calvert of Georgetown University in Washington found children enjoyed playing online computer games -- whether the games promoted bananas, orange juice and other healthy foods or candy bars, cookies and potato chips.

The type of food promoted in the online games influenced the children's choice of snack foods after playing the games.

In the study, online games, patterned after advergames -- online computer games developed specifically to promote a brand, often featuring logos and characters present on many food and beverage Web sites -- were shown to 30 low-income, African-American children ages 9-10.

With only 10 minutes of exposure, our results revealed that children selected and ate whatever snacks were being marketed by the advergame, healthy or not, the study authors said in a statement.

The researchers said their findings justify current public concerns about online games marketing unhealthy foods, but the findings also show the same technology could be used to promote nutritious foods and help establish healthy habits at an early age.

The study was published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.