Video games have been blamed for contributing to the obesity epidemic through encouraging inactivity and increasing food intake.1–3 But, did you know that the fun and challenge of games, as well as their potential for education, can be harnessed to help control weight?
Over 2/3 of Americans are either overweight or obese, women a little more than men.4,5 And statistics show that around half of Americans play video games “regularly”, with 42% playing for at least three hours per week. These players include a significant number of adults and women – 44% are middle-aged or older (35+years) and 31% are adult women.6,7 The popularity of games and the high prevalence of obesity in today’s world present a unique opportunity for games designed to control weight to have a significant impact.
Some of the potential for using game-like technology to help control weight is already realized through mobile applications that guide healthy eating and fitness activity. Many such gamified devices act through reminders to perform some health-related behavior or tracking and rewarding healthy behaviors. But this is just a start. There is a vast potential to use actual games by associating healthy behaviors with game success to restructure thinking that contributes to overeating. Games can also offer opportunities to practice healthy dietary selections while facing a game challenge and having fun.
A wide range of game functions can be harnessed to improve personal weight control:
- Education: Games can help educate and motivate players to make the behavior changes needed to help regulate hunger. For example, a game might give a player points for selecting a low carbohydrate/high protein food, while making a high sugar selection would lose points.
- Illustration: A high carbohydrate meal may result in a visually-represented large wave of hunger just a short time later, thus illustrating the biological effects of a high carbohydrate diet.
- Choice: Players may learn that they can make intentional choices, such as eating enough fiber or drinking enough water, that help control automatic appetite signals. Or they can make rapid choice between healthy and unhealthy food and beverages and allow for repeated practice, which is an important component of behavior change.
- Collection: By collecting and inspecting food items in a game, players can learn to be more aware of food ingredients that contribute to weight gain, such as added sugar.
Merging popular game functions with games designed to parallel biological principles of appetite regulation, players learn a variety of ways to regulate their hunger signals. Players also get practice selecting healthy choices in a symbolic environment. We look forward to exploring this area of game-focused behavior change in our current and future games.
Health Impact Studios has multiple games currently in development that deal with hunger and healthy eating including GroceryHunt and Swipe Away. Learn more about our games in development.
- Chaput Jean-Philippe, Visby Trine, Nyby Signe, et al. Video game playing increases food intake in adolescents: a randomized crossover study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011;93(6):1196-1203. doi:10.3945/ajcn.110.008680.
- Stettler Nicolas, Signer Theo M, Suter Paolo M. Electronic Games and Environmental Factors Associated with Childhood Obesity in Switzerland. Obes Res. 2004;12(6):896-903. doi:10.1038/oby.2004.109.
- Calvert Sandra L, Staiano Amanda E, Bond Bradley J. Electronic Gaming and the Obesity Crisis. New Dir Child Adolesc Dev. 2013;2013(139):51-57. doi:10.1002/cad.20031.
- Flegal Katherine M, Carroll Margaret D, Ogden Cynthia L, Curtin Lester R. Prevalence and Trends in Obesity Among US Adults, 1999-2008. JAMA. 2010;303(3):235-241. doi:10.1001/jama.2009.2014.
- Flegal Katherine M, Kruszon-Moran Deanna, Carroll Margaret D, Fryar Cheryl D, Ogden Cynthia L. Trends in Obesity Among Adults in the United States, 2005 to 2014. JAMA. 2016;315(21):2284-2291. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.6458.
- Entertainment Software Association (ESA). The 2015 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry. April 2015.
- Entertainment Software Association (ESA). Essential facts about the computer and video game industry. 2017.