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12 June 2019

Healthy eating through gaming?

The population of people who are overweight or obese is ever increasing. Health interventions try to stimulate people to eat more fruit and vegetables and less energy dense products. A study in Appetite explores if a health game can spark positive subconscious reactions towards healthy food and, in turn, help in making the healthy choice. The results show that a health game can indeed be helpful, but not for those people who need the intervention most.

Take aways

  • The health game Sky Islands stimulates people to make healthy food choices - but only those people who are already positive about healthy food.
  • The game is not useful, sometimes even harmful, for people who are less positive about healthy food. This is unfortunate, as those people are most in need for help in making healthy choices.

Study information

  • Who?

    125 participants (mean age: 20, 63% female)

  • Where?

    The Netherlands

  • How?

    Participants played the computer game Sky Islands, that aimed to influence subconscious reactions towards food (health game) or something unrelated to food - fuel types. Before and after the participants played the game, their subconscious positive and negative reactions to healthy and unhealthy foods were assessed. Finally, participants evaluated the game and made a virtual and a real choice between unhealthy (chocolates) and healthy (fruits) products.

Facts and findings

  • Participants who played the game that was unrelated to food had more negative associations with healthy food after playing the game than before. In contrast, for participants who played the health game, the associations with healthy food stayed the same.
  • Participants who had positive associations with healthy food at the start of the study chose fruit more often than chocolate after playing the health game than after playing the game that was unrelated to food.
  • Surprisingly, participants who had less positive associations with healthy food at the start, chose chocolate more often after playing the health game.
  • Participants reported that the game was quite difficult.