Playing an Internet game that features a hidden food advertisement is linked to increased candy eating among children, according to a new study conducted by a behavioral scientist at Radboud University in the Netherlands.
At least once a week, said researcher Frans Folkvord, two-thirds of all elementary school-age children will play an Internet game that was created to draw attention to a brand. Most of these advertisements are for snacks and candy.
For the study, Folkvord tested the effects of such hidden online food advertisements on the eating behavior of more than 1000 children. While only 6 percent of these children were aware that such advergames were actually advertisements, the children ate 55 percent more of the candy offered to them just after playing the game, compared to those who had played a game with an embedded advertisement for a toy.
These games do affect children’s eating behavior, said Folkvord, and if it were up to him they would be banned.
“In contrast to television, where the clearly delimited blocks of commercials can help viewers guard against temptation, on the Internet, advertising is mixed with other types of content. The websites of food manufacturers contain games, which also offer children the option of sharing games with their friends,” said Folkvord.
One significant finding was that most of the children did not recognize the games as advertisements, even when brand names and logos were clearly visible.
Furthermore, it did not matter whether the games were about candy or fruit: Children ate more candy after playing a game involving food.
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.
According to the findings, 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. “These children had apparently learned to make healthier choices.”
Folkvord strongly believes that attention needs to be drawn toward the potential prohibition of food commercials aimed at children. He is collaborating with the University of Barcelona to formulate a recommendation to the European Union on this subject.
“Children play a game, get hungry and reach for treats. As the cycle continues, children fail to learn healthy eating behaviour. The results of my study indicate that these advertisements have an even heavier influence on children who are already overweight.”
Source: Radboud University