UC Food Safety
University of California
UC Food Safety

*Advergames* market junk foods to children

On the McDonalds Happy Meals website, children can make themselves the star of a music video. Kids are challenged to send pastries soaring over as many toasters as possible on the Pop-Tarts website's "Daredevil Toaster Jump." Cheetos lets kids upload a picture or video of a Cheeto to have its website’s “state-of-the-art analyzer thingy” determine what it resembles.

These and other “advergames” can have a tremendous impact on children’s preferences and purchasing requests for unhealthy foods, according to Jennifer Culp, a UC Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program training coordinator.

Culp and Diana Cassady, associate professor of public health sciences at UC Davis, analyzed the restaurant, beverage and food websites advertised on the Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon weekday afternoons and Saturday mornings between August 2006 and March 2007. In all, the duo reviewed 19 websites, 290 Web pages and 247 advergames.

Close to one-third of the TV advertising that included websites was for food. Eighty-four percent of the food websites advertised included advergames, a blend of interactive animation, video content and advertising which promote corporate branding and products. On average, one nutrition or physical activity message appeared for every 45 brand identifiers.

"I was astounded by how often logos or actual food products were integrated into the games," Culp said.

Some games used candy or cereal as game pieces, while others would require special codes – available only by buying a specific product – to advance to higher game levels, she said.

The study concluded that government regulations are needed for food companies targeting youths and health professionals and parents should monitor food industry marketing practices.

The study, funded by the Cancer Research Program, was published in the May issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

The UC website EatFit! aimed primarily at teenagers, offers fun activities and information about eating right. Website visitors can find healthy recipes and games, conduct an eating analysis and get exercise tips. It's all free.

Posted on Wednesday, June 23, 2010 at 5:46 AM

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