Why Certain Online Games Lead Your Kids to Overeat

A study shows how online games with images of food in them are linked to an increase in childhood obesity.

Candy Crush may seem like an innocent, fun game for your child to play, but it could lead to unhealthy eating habits.

That’s according to a new study led by Frans Folkvord, a behavioral scientist at Radboud University in the Netherlands, which found that games that contain images of food stimulate children’s appetites, leading them to eat 55 percent more candy than kids who played games without food.

“Children play a game, get hungry and reach for treats. As the cycle continues, children fail to learn healthy eating behavior,” Folkvord explains.

Folkvord and his colleagues tested the eating habits of 1,000 children after they played different online games. He found that regardless of what food appeared in the game, children eat more candy afterward.

During the five-minute break after playing the food-related games, children ate 72 more calories (16 M&Ms or 10 candy cola bottles) than did children in the control conditions.

The study was published in the Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences.

Although the researchers found no link between eating sweets and having a higher BMI two years down the road, “the BMIs of children who chose to satisfy their hunger with an apple instead of with candy were lower two years later than were those of children who had chosen to satisfy their hunger with candy,” the study said.

“These children had apparently learned to make healthier choices,” Folkvord explained. He says food-based games have led to an increase in childhood obesity.

This study is also a testament to the power of advertising. According to the researchers, two-thirds of all primary-school-age children play online games that are designed to draw attention to a brand, although just 6 percent of the kids are aware that the games they are playing are really advertisements in disguise. According to Quartz:

Children are a prime target for advertising, not just by those who want to make them want things now but also by those who want to increase brand loyalty. Even though children may not be in the position to make direct purchases now, their consumption is only going to increase as they grow up. And, if caught early enough, these impressionable minds can become great brand ambassadors.

That’s why Folkvord is calling for a ban on games that are simply a cover for advertisements.

What do you think of the study linking food-related games to children developing unhealthy eating habits? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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