Researchers in the Netherlands have reportedly identified a link between computer games with food advertisements and higher calorie consumption in children, especially among those identified as impulsive. Frans Folkvord et al., “Impulsivity, ‘Advergames,’ and Food Intake,” Pediatrics, May 5, 2014. The study of 261 children aged seven to 10 assessed them for impulsivity, and then they played a matching game with branded content—an “advergame”— of either a candy brand or a toy brand. While the children were allowed to eat candy during play, half of each group playing each game was told that they would be rewarded for refraining from eating. The researchers observed the children for five minutes and measured their food intake.

Overall, the children playing the game with the candy brand ate more than the group playing the toy-branded game, but most of the children who were promised rewards for not eating the candy consumed fewer calories than the group that had received no such promise. The 39 percent of children who had been assessed as impulsive, however, were much more likely to eat the candy if they were playing the food game, regardless of whether they were to be rewarded for not eating. Head researcher Frans Folkvord told Reuters, “Impulsive children have insufficient inhibitory behavioral control, and food advertisers try to influence eating behavior, thereby making it more difficult for especially impulsive children to self-regulate their food intake.” Because many food companies appear to host online advergames similar to the ones used in the study, Folkvord suggested that parents explain the advertising angles of these games to make their children think critically about what messages the games send. See Reuters, May 6, 2014.