Food company computer games increase junk food consumption

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 11th January 2012

A new study from Yale University, in the USA, says that children are disproportionately targeted by food company websites using branded computer games, known as ‘advergames’.

The study also found that playing these games increases children’s consumption of junk food. The findings have been published in the Journal of Children and Media.

The researchers also say that playing these games increases children’s consumption of junk food.

In the first study, the researchers examined the number and age of visitors to food company websites and the relative usage of sites that contained advergames. The study found that over one million children visit food company advergame sites every month and that they spend up to one hour per month on some sites.

According to the research, the majority of advergame sites promote candy, high-sugar cereals, and fast food, and many feature products that food companies have pledged they will not market to children. Young people were significantly more engaged in these sites compared with other food company-sponsored websites, according to the study.

The second study examined 152 children and measured how much snack food they consumed after playing advergames that featured unhealthy or healthy food, compared with playing computer games that did not focus on food.

Advergames that promoted junk food increased the children’s consumption of unhealthy snack foods by 56 per cent compared to playing the healthy games, and 16 per cent more than playing the control games. In addition, children who played unhealthy advergames consumed one-third fewer fruits and vegetables than children who played the control and healthy games.

Study author Jennifer Harris said, “While research has shown a decline in television food advertisements targeted to children, companies are introducing new and sophisticated forms of marketing such as advergames that allow children to engage in advertising content for unlimited amounts of time.”

The researchers assert that this study showing the reach and impact of advergames on children’s eating behaviors demonstrates the need for substantial reductions in the use of advergames to promote unhealthy food to children.