A group of researchers from the USDA/ARS Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital conducted a study among 400 fourth and fifth-grade children. The kids had to create specific plans while playing a video game that promoted fruit and vegetable intake — and the results appeared to carry through to their own eating habits.
In an interview with Dipali Pathak of the Baylor College of Medicine website, Dr. Karen Cullen, professor of pediatrics at Baylor and first author of the research paper, commented:
"Numerous studies have shown that the majority of the US children did not consume the recommended daily amounts of fruit and vegetables. It is a crucial issue for the researchers nowadays as these fresh foods are perfect for a healthy lifestyle. They also reduce the risks of some serious chronic diseases and several types of cancer. So interventions to help children choose and eat more fruit and vegetables are important."
As Science Daily notes, the ten-episode video game called Squire's Quest II: Saving the Kingdom of Fivealot was designed to both entertain and promote behavioral change.
The researchers split the kids into four groups based on the type of implementation intention, specific meal plans, defined during goal setting. The four groups were as follows: no implementation intention at all, action plan (explaining fruit and veggie intake specifics of what, when, where), coping plan (common obstacles to eating fruits and vegetables and ways to deal with them successfully) and both action and coping plans. Children completed three 24-hour dietary recalls at the beginning and six months after the experiment.
Parents were also actively involved, writes Indian Express. The families received weekly progress updates, a weekly newsletter, and a link to a dedicated website where they could access the kids' weekly goals. On the web page, parents could find useful tips for achieving these targets and learn ways to overcome the most frequent barriers to help families improve their food choices.
As The Times of India reported, the researchers concluded that kids in the action and coping groups confirmed higher vegetable intakes at dinner. In general, all groups had significant increases in fruit intake at breakfast, lunch and snack time. At the end of the six month period, 79 percent of the kids managed to meet all of their dietary goals during the game, notes Samantha Olson of the Medical Daily.
Dr. Cullen and her team believe that the experiment successfully managed to promote healthy eating among the children because it did so through entertainment. However, parents' involvement in the process also played a crucial role to the higher consumption of fruit and veggies as it promoted behavioral changes.
Dr. Balz Frei, a biochemistry professor, who specializes in nutrition at Oregon State University and who was not part of the research team, commented:
"The normal development and growth of all of a child's tissues is just critically dependent on vitamins and minerals. Starting from conception, micronutrients are crucial to the trajectory of your health for the rest of your life."