Parents Use New Computer Game as a Tool to Encourage Healthy Eating

Children playing with a laptop with their mother (image via Shutterstock)

Computer Game Used as Tool to Encourage Healthy Eating

A computer game was recently developed by psychologists at the University of Exeter to help assist children to choose healthy eating options. The game was designed to link energy dense foods with 'inaction' in the game. The game lasts for seven minutes and players are required to react by pressing a button when healthy food appears, and when unhealthy food appears on the screen to do nothing. Psychologists believe that this inaction causes children to form a new association, when they see unhealthy food they stop. 

Study Conducted On 200 School Children

Researcher Frederick Verbruggen and his colleagues published their experiment in the journal 'Appetite' entitled From Cookies To Carrots; the effect of inhibitory control training on children's snack selection. The purpose of the experiment was to test how the game's influence effected food choices.

A total of more than 200 schoolchildren aged between 4-11 years old were shown images of healthy and unhealthy food. Alongside each image was a happy or sad cartoon face, happy for healthy food and sad for unhealthy food. A control group was also used where the images of happy or sad faces associated with the healthy or unhealthy food were mixed.

The children were not told the game had any relation with healthy or unhealthy food. The children were instructed that they had to press the space-bar when a happy face appeared and do nothing if they saw a sad face. 

After playing the computer game, the children were then asked to choose in one minute a limited number of food items. The findings showed that children who played the seven minute game made healthier choices when asked to pick foods afterward.

Fifty percent the food selected by those who played the game was considered healthy in comparison with the thirty percent selected by children who did not play the game.

Meanwhile children who were in the control groups, who were shown random happy and sad faces between healthy and unhealthy foods showed no change in their food choices.

The researchers explain that previous projects to encourage healthy eating have focused on education and willpower. But this game encourages players to make new associations (what's healthy and what's unhealthy), making them choose better when they see food that is not considered healthy. 

The game has been published online to attract participants to see if its as affective when played at home. The participants children aged 4-12 years old will be asked about their child's favorite foods and will be asked to play a few rounds of the short game. The game requires a device with a keyboard as it is not yet compatible with a touchscreen. After playing the game parents will be asked to provide feedback with their experience.


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