After being pointed out as a key cause of the rising rate of childhood obesity, video games got a reprieve on Tuesday as a new study showed they can be used to encourage kids to eat healthier foods.
The study, conducted in the United States, where nearly one in every five 19-year-olds is obese, found that children who played certain “serious” video games — not the blockbuster blood-and-guts ones like Black Ops — increased the amount of fruit and vegetables they ate per day by around one serving.
That is a useful step towards fighting childhood flab because “increased fruit and vegetable intakes have been associated with decreased risk of obesity,” says the study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Baylor College of Medicine professor Tom Baranowski, who led the study, said the video games, Escape from Diab and Nanoswarm, which were designed to change diet and physical activity behaviours to reduce the risk of becoming obese and diabetic, “motivated players to substantially improve diet behaviours.
“Diab and Nanoswarm were designed as epic video game adventures, comparable to commercial quality video games. These games incorporate a broad diversity of behaviour change procedures woven in and around engrossing stories,” he said.
Playing both games several times “had a meaningful effect on dietary fruit and vegetable intake,” the study found.
But while that was good news, the bad news was that the children did not get more exercise, and, even with their increased intake of healthy foods, they still failed to eat the doctor-recommended minimum daily amount of fruit and vegetables.
Health professionals recommend that children eat five servings a day of fruit or vegetables and get an hour of moderate to vigorous exercise.