Video Games Improve Healthy Behaviors in Children

A recent study evaluated the effect of playing two video games – “Ecape from Diab” (Diab) and “Nanoswarm: Invasion from Inner Space” (Nano) – on the dietary habits of children and also on their physical activity. The study compared the effect of playing Diab and Nano with other Internet games that were targeted at diet and physical activity. It was observed that children who played Diab and Nano consumed more fruit and vegetables over a few days; but that there was no significant difference in water consumption, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity or body composition.

The increasing incidence of obesity in youth in the last few decades has led to increased numbers of children with diabetes. Earlier studies observed that some video games improved dietary habits in children, resulting in reduced incidence of obesity and its other associated complications. The present research study was aimed at analyzing the effects of Diab and Nano games. The first set of children in the study was asked to play Diab and Nano games and the second set was asked to play other diet related games available on popular websites. It was proven in the study that these two video games are more effective in improving the dietary habits than the other Internet games used in the study.

•    A total of 133 children aged between 10 and 12 years, with an average body mass index (a measure of obesity), was included in the study.
•    One group of 93 children was asked to play Diab and Nano and another group of 40 children was asked to play other diet and physical activity based Internet games.
•    Dietary improvement was measured using 24-hour dietary recall on five subsequent days.
•    The physical activity of children was measured using an Actigraph AM-7164 accelerometer.

•    Children who played Diab and Nano significantly increased their consumption of fruit and vegetables by 0.67 servings per day.
•    Improvement in water consumption was not observed.
•    There was no significant improvement in body composition or moderate-to-vigorous physical activity in children who played Diab and Nano.
•    Between 80 and 90 percent of the children in the study enjoyed playing these video games.

Shortcomings/Next steps
This study did not include children who were already obese. Similar studies on obese children may yield different results. Dietary improvement was studied using 24-hour recall. This source of information can be prone to memory error and may not be very reliable. Additionally, the sample size was very small and a study on a larger group is needed to confirm these results.

The video games Diab and Nano have been designed to improve the dietary habits and the physical activity of children. Epic video games such as Diab and Nano are on par with commercial-quality video games, in terms of engaging the player. This study has shown that playing such games can motivate children to considerably improve fruit and vegetable intake. One change that was suggested by the study is to design the games so that players can advance only if they improve their diet and physical activity levels. Developing the design of these video games will help them to be more effective in reducing obesity and its associated complications.

For More Information:
Playing Certain Video Games Improves Dietary Habits in Children
Publication Journal: American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2011
By Tom Baranowski, PhD; Janice Baranowski; U. S. Department of Agriculture/Agricultural Research Service Children’s Nutrition Research Center, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.