"Compared to a typical TV commercial that would last maybe 30 seconds, these games are fun and engaging and children can play them for much longer periods of time," says Elizabeth Taylor Quilliam. (Credit: Thijs Knaap/Flickr)

‘Advergames’ full of snap, crackle, and calories

Advergames—an online marketing tool geared toward children—not only support a less-than-active lifestyle, they also promote a diet that is high in sugar, fat, and sodium.

These online video games promote a particular product, service, or company by integrating it into a free game, usually using brand names, logos, pictures of the product, and a spokescharacter.

For a new study, published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease, researchers found hundreds of advergames actively played by children on food marketer websites. They focused on 145 different websites and found 439 food brands being promoted through advergames on those sites.

The games largely centered around high-fat, high-sugar, and high-sodium products.

“One of the things we were concerned about was that the majority of foods that received the most interest were those that tended to be energy dense—high in calories—and not high in nutrients,” says Lorraine Weatherspoon, associate professor of food science and human nutrition at Michigan State University.

“These foods typically included high-sugar snacks and cereals as well as instant or canned soups, sugar-sweetened beverages, and several types of candy products.”

The games are also quick and easy to play.

“Compared to a typical TV commercial that would last maybe 30 seconds, these games are fun and engaging and children can play them for much longer periods of time,” says Elizabeth Taylor Quilliam, assistant professor of advertising and public relations.

There are no consistent standards for what can or cannot be marketed to children and how the marketing should be done.

“We firmly believe that some kind of federally mandated policy needs to be addressed, so that there is better control on the type and amount of marketing as well as the kinds of foods that are promoted,” Weatherspoon says. They would ultimately like to see healthy eating promoted through advergames.

“We hope that we can translate the use of engaging entertaining online tactics like this to teach healthy eating and other healthy lifestyle behaviors to kids,” Quilliam says.

Researchers from Hanyang University and Chung-Ang University, both in South Korea, contributed to the study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Source: Michigan State University

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