How do video games advertising unhealthy snacks affect children’s food choices?

    • Topic: Cognitive Development

    • Location: Discovery Center

    Previous research has shown that television advertising can influence children’s food choices and understanding of healthy eating habits. We want to find out if online games featuring unhealthy snacks have similar effects.

    In this study, children answer some questions about their media use and then play a 5-minute, non-violent online video game. Each child plays one of three versions of the game: one with no advertising, one with a picture of a product, and one with the product as part of the game. The experimenter notes how well children score and asks how much they enjoyed the game. Next, children “pack a lunch” by choosing from a selection of snack foods ranging in nutritional value, including the snack advertised in the game (they do not eat anything). Finally, children share their feelings about the specific brand of snack advertised, and their understanding of the game as an advertisement.

    We expect that children who play a game advertising an unhealthy snack will like that product more, will choose it over other similar products, and will choose other unhealthy foods when “packing a lunch.” We predict that this effect will be stronger when the product is part of the game and weaker when the children understand that the game is an advertisement.

    The results of this experiment will allow us to learn more about how different styles of advertising influence children. We hope to use our results to shape future obesity reduction programs that help people make healthy food choices.

    This research was conducted at the Museum of Science, Boston by David S. Bickham, PhD, and the Center on Media & Child Health at the Boston Children’s Hospital's Division of Adolescent Medicine. This project was funded by the Clinical Research Program at the Boston Children’s Hospital.

        » Center on Media & Child Health

    Activities to Try in the Discovery Center

    What Do I Eat?

    Find an animal that lives in the Discovery Center, such as the Three-Toed Box Turtle. Look into its tank. Can your child find any of the animal’s food? What does this animal eat at the museum? What does this animal eat in the wild? Ask your child why the animal might have to eat different food in the museum. Does the animal eat the same food that people do? Why do different animals eat different food?

    Activities to Try at Home

    Snack Choices

    Do your child’s choices for snack change depending on what you have been doing? Try asking your child to choose a snack in two different scenarios: after you have been physically active and talked about how important it is to take care of your body, and after you have been sitting on the couch watching TV. Offer the same range of options each time. Is your child more likely to choose a healthy snack after one of these activities?

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