Gaming the System

Kids paid to play video games, which increase their fruit and vegetable intake

(RxWiki News) Video games formulated to change eating habits increased fruit and vegetable consumption in preteen children.

"Video games offer promise of innovative channels for effective behavior change," wrote Tom Baranowski, PhD, from the Agricultural Research Service Children's Nutrition Research Center and colleagues. "Once a child's attention has been attracted, modeling, tailoring, and feedback can increase personal relevance."

Oh yeah -- and video games are fun.

The study analyzed 133 children from 10 to 12 years old with body mass indexes between the 50th and 95th percentiles, which means the children has body mass indexes greater than 50 to 95 percent of peers of their same sex and age. (Body mass index refers to a heuristic measure of body weight based on a person's weight and height.) The children played two games: "Escape from Diab" and "Nanoswarm: Invasion from Inner Space" -- both of which employed theories of social cognition, self-determination and persuasion -- and reported their food intake to dieticians.

Researchers found that children playing both video games ate .67 more servings of fruit and .018 more servings of vegetables than those in the control group. The games had no influence on water intake or physical activity, however.

"Fruit and vegetable intake and water consumption and physical activity were still below the minimum recommendations, indicating that more work is needed," the authors wrote.

The researchers acknowledged limitations to their study, namely children self-reporting their fruit and vegetable intake, accepting money possibly as motivation to finish the games, a small sample size due to limited funding and increases in sedentary behavior from playing the video games.

So-called serious video games hold promise, the researchers said, but the games' "effectiveness and mechanisms of change among youth need to be investigated more thoroughly."

The study follows others looking at possible benefits and perks of video gaming. One recent study suggests that a reorganization of the brain's cortical network in young men with significant experience playing video games gives them an advantage not only in playing the games but also in performing other tasks requiring visuomotor skills.

Another study at the Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine suggests a novel route to improving the symptoms of subsyndromal depression (SSD) in seniors through the regular use of "exergames," entertaining video games that combine game play with exercise.

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Review Date: 
December 9, 2010