Advergames Affect Nutrition Choices

In yesterday’s TIME Healthland blog, reporter Alice Park discusses recent research about “advergames” (branded video games on food companies’ websites).  Researchers have produced compelling data in the Journal of Children and Media that show how advergames affect children’s nutrition choices.  


What are advergames?

Shorthand for advertisement games, advergames are interactive games featured on a food company’s website.  Typically, the game is targeting children (although I do know some adults that would be charmed by “Doritos Dash of Destruction”).

With the goal of promoting their product, companies present its brand in a fun, engaging way — ultimately increasing product exposure and potential buy.  According to a study in 2009 published in The Journal of Consumer Affairs, companies spent a projected $676 million to produce advergames. (1)

Current behaviors of children

At Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, two studies were conducted to find out how many kids visit advergaming sites and if those sites had an impact on both healthy and unhealthy food consumption.  What they found: advergames do change behavior in a significant way.

Games that featured healthier products (like fruits and veggies) had kids eating 50% more grapes and carrots than those who played advergames featuring unhealthy products.  Unfortunately, the researchers also noted that children playing unhealthy advergames consumed 56% more junk foods compared with those in the healthy-food-advergame group.

What to do?

It’s a crafty marketing strategy.  Think of it as the happy-meal-toy-gone-virtual, just another method to entice kids to eat a certain way.  Whether or not you agree with offering online advertising as a way to teach, I would recommend parents be aware of the games children are playing.  It is clear some advergames are helpful to promote healthy intake of foods.  It is also clear that most advergames are not healthy and therefore, will help compromise good eating practices.

Sources

(1) Lee, Choi, Quilliam & Cole, 2009.  Food advergames targeting children: prevalence, effects, and policy implications.  Online source.

(2) Source of study here.

(3) Healthland blog in Time here.

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