The Effect of a Serious Health Game on Children's Eating Behavior: Cluster-Randomized Controlled Trial

JMIR Serious Games. 2021 Sep 2;9(3):e23050. doi: 10.2196/23050.


Background: Currently, children's dietary intake patterns do not meet prescribed dietary guidelines. Consequently, childhood obesity is one of the most serious health concerns. Therefore, innovative methods need to be developed and tested in order to effectively improve the dietary intake of children. Teaching children how to cope with the overwhelming number of unhealthy food cues could be conducted effectively by serious health games.

Objective: The main aim of this study was to examine the effect of a serious health computer game on young children's eating behavior and attitudes toward healthy and unhealthy foods.

Methods: A cluster-randomized controlled trial with a between-group design was conducted (n=157; 8-12 years), wherein children played a game that promoted a healthy lifestyle or attended regular classes and did not play a game (control). The game was designed in collaboration with researchers and pilot-tested among a group of children repeatedly before conducting the experiment. After 1 week of playing, attitudes toward food snacks and actual intake (children could eat ad libitum from fruits or energy-dense snacks) was assessed.

Results: The results showed that playing a serious health game did not have an effect on attitude toward fruits or energy-dense snacks or on the intake of fruits or less energy-dense snacks. Additional Bayesian analyses supported these findings.

Conclusions: Serious health games are increasingly considered to be a potential effective intervention when it comes to behavior change. The results of the current study stress the importance of tailoring serious health games in order to be effective, because no effect was found on attitude or eating behavior.

Trial registration: NCT05025995;

Keywords: children; eating behavior; food-cues; health intervention; serious health game.

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