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15 April 2018

An App a Day Keeps The Doctor Away: Gaming Apps With Characters Teach Preschoolers About Healthy Diet

Keywords: characters, food, fruit, games, gaming, health, learning, preschoolers, North America, experiment,
More and more gaming apps teach children about healthy eating. According to a study in Games for Health Journal, it is important to use characters in these apps. The study shows that playing apps in which healthy choices of a character are rewarded and unhealthy ones are penalized, can stimulate preschoolers’ nutritional learning.

Take aways

  • As found in previous studies, cartoon characters on product packaging can increase children’s appeal to fruit.
  • Using characters in healthy gaming apps is also promising: Playing character-based healthy gaming apps -in which the character receives awards for making healthy choices and punishments for unhealthy choices- can be effective in teaching preschoolers about nutrition. 
  • The more preschoolers play these games, the more they:
    • like the character;
    • recall the nutritional information presented by the app character (what is healthy and what is not). 
  • For healthy game developers it is important to know that character-based apps can be effective in stimulating preschoolers’ nutritional learning. 

Study information

  • The question?

    Can playing character-based healthy gaming apps be effective in teaching preschoolers about nutrition? 
  • Who?

    114 4- and 5-year-olds (mean age: 4 years old; 50% girls; 64% was Caucasian, 24.6% mixed, 7.9% African American, 2.6% Asian, and 0.9% Hispanic)
  • Where?

    A large metropolitan area, United States
  • How?

    The researchers divided the children into three groups:
    1. In the single app-exposure group children played the D.W.’s Unicorn Adventure gaming app for 31 minutes. The ultimate goal in the app is to help the character D.W. save a lost unicorn by eating fruit and vegetable snacks and by avoiding unhealthy snacks. Children are rewarded with points and extra energy when they eat healthy snacks and points are subtracted when they snack unhealthy. 
    2. In the repeated app-exposure group children played the same gaming app as children in the single-app exposure group, but for a longer period of time. The researchers instructed them to play the game for 5 days, as often as they wanted. 
    3. In the non-exposure group, children did not play the gaming app at all. 

    All children saw a picture of the app character D.W. and indicated how much they liked the character. To assess recall of healthy and unhealthy items from the app, the researchers also asked the children what foods they thought are healthy for the character and what items are not. 

Facts and findings

  • Children who repeatedly played the gaming app liked the character more than children who did not play the app. 
  • The more children played the app, the better they knew what foods were healthy for the character and what foods were not (recall of healthy and unhealthy items) 
  • Moreover, the more children liked the character, the better they recalled healthy items. However, this was only true for children who played the game once and not for children who could play the app as often as they wanted for 5 days. 
  • This means that liking the character only played a role when children played the gaming app once. When playing the gaming app more often, the multiple exposures to the nutritional information increased preschoolers’ recall of what is healthy and what is not--regardless of whether they liked the character.