Research: Food Advergames Promote Unhealthy Lifestyle Choices to Children

New research from Michigan State University examined advergames and found that they have a tendency to promote foods that are unhealthy – full of fat, sugar, and sodium. Researchers concluded that these games meant to promote products and brands often promote unhealthy lifestyle choices for children too.

The researchers examined hundreds of advergames actively played by children on food marketing websites. They focused on 145 different websites and found 439 food brands being promoted through advergames on those sites. Researchers say that they found that many of the games centered around high-fat, high-sugar and high-sodium products.

"One of the things we were concerned about was that the majority of foods that received the most interest were those that tended to be energy dense – high in calories – and not high in nutrients," said Lorraine Weatherspoon, a co-director of the project and an associate professor of food science and human nutrition. "These foods typically included high-sugar snacks and cereals as well as instant or canned soups, sugar-sweetened beverages and several types of candy products."

"Compared to a typical TV commercial that would last maybe 30 seconds, these games are fun and engaging and children can play them for much longer periods of time," added Elizabeth Taylor Quilliam, project co-director and assistant professor of advertising and public relations.

Researchers added that there seems to be no consistent standards for what can or cannot be marketed to children and how the marketing should be done.

"We firmly believe that some kind of federally mandated policy needs to be addressed, so that there is better control on the type and amount of marketing as well as the kinds of foods that are promoted," Weatherspoon said.

By shedding light on these types of games, researchers hope to see healthy eating promoted through advergames in the future.

"We hope that we can translate the use of engaging entertaining online tactics like this to teach healthy eating and other healthy lifestyle behaviors to kids," Quilliam said.

The article, "Consistency of Nutrition Recommendations for Foods Marketed to Children in the United States," was published in a recent issue of the journal Preventing Chronic Disease. The research was funded through a $407,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health.

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