N° 6 | November 2006

Playing to Change: Games, Comics, Fruit and Vegetables

Getting children to eat more fruit and vegetables has been challenging1. New methods are needed to get past student resistance to these behaviors. Electronic games are a medium that engage large numbers of children on almost a daily basis, often for several hours2, and most children report enjoying playing games3.

Squire’s Quest! was an interactive multimedia computer game in which behavior change procedures were inserted to promote eating more fruit and vegetables4. Ten sessions of approximately 25 min each were offered twice a week for 5 weeks. Each session addressed skills (e.g. decision making, recipe preparation, problem solving), knowledge, goal setting, food self schema and related components4. These behavior change components were inserted within a fun storyline wherein the child agreed to become a knight to help King Cornwell and Queen Nutritia fight invaders who were destroying the kingdom by destroying the fruit and vegetables, the source of energy.

Twenty six elementary schools were recruited to participate; 1578 4th grade students participated. Schools were randomly assigned to treatment and control groups. Four days of diet assessment were conducted before and after the 5 week intervention. At the end of 5 weeks, the treatment group was eating one more serving of fruit or vegetables per day than the control group, after controlling for baseline differences4. Similar kinds of programs have been developed for at risk of overweight 8 year old African American girls after a 4 week summer day camp program5; and for a Boy Scout 5 A Day badge program6.
Electronic games provide attractions to engage the child and focus their attention; and provide a medium into which behavior change principles and procedures can be inserted7. Electronic games offer an important channel for reaching large numbers of children. We are only in the earliest stages of learning how to capitalize on these strengths for promoting fruit and vegetable intake.

  1. Blanchette L, Brug J. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2005;18(6):431-443.
  2. Woodard EI, Gridina N. 2000. Media in the Home 2000: The Fifth Annual Survey of Parents and Children (Survey Series No. 7), Philadelphia: Annanberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.
  3. Fromme J. Int J of Computer Game Research: www.gamestudies.org/0301/fromme; 2003.
  4. Baranowski T et al. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2003;24:52-61.
  5. Baranowski T et al. Ethnicity and Disease. 2003;13(1):S1-30 – S31-39.
  6. Thompson D et al. 5 A Day Boy Scout Badge Program: Outcome results. In preparation.
  7. Thompson D et al. Computers & Education.(in press).
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