Children who played video games designed to promote behavior change increased their fruit and vegetable consumption, according to a study published today by researchers at the USDA/ARS Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

“We believe that video games are among the most promising approaches to promoting behavior change in children,” said Dr. Tom Baranowski, professor of pediatrics-nutrition at BCM and senior author of the paper.

Goal setting, problem solving

Researchers studied 133 children between the ages of 10 and 12 years and between the 50th and 95th percentile body mass index. Children in the control group were given information on websites with video games and questions to answer after they played the games. Children in the treatment group played epic video games specially developed to incorporate aspects of behavior change such as goal setting, problem solving and decision making. The two games, “Escape from Diab” and “Nanoswarm: Invasion from Inner Space,” were played in sequence. Researchers wanted to see how these games affected the children’s diet, physical activity and tendency to become obese.

They found that those who played the video games that were designed to promote behavior change increased their fruit and vegetable consumption by 2/3 of a serving per day compared to the control group. The children did not increase their water consumption, moderate to vigorous physical activity or improve body composition.

Exploring ways to use video games

“We’re at the early stages of knowing how best to use video games to promote behavior change and more research is necessary to figure out how to better use the video games in this context,” said Baranowski.

Funding for this study came from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, a part of the National Institutes of Health.

Others who took part in the study include Janice Baranowski, Dr. Debbe Thompson, Noemi Islam, Nga Nguyen, Melissa Juliano Griffith and Dr. Kathleen Watson of BCM, Richard Buday of Archimage, Inc., in Houston and Dr. Russell Jago of the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom.