A team of Michigan State University researchers took a closer look at what are called advergames- an online video game that promotes a particular product, service or company by integrating it into the game, and is typically offered for free, located hundreds of advergames actively played by children on food marketer websites.
For the study, they focused on 145 different websites and found 439 food brands being promoted through advergames on those sites and found that many of the games centred around high-fat, high-sugar and high-sodium products.
"One of the things we were concerned about was that the majority of foods that received the most interest were those that tended to be energy dense - high in calories - and not high in nutrients," Lorraine Weatherspoon, a co-director of the project and an associate professor of food science and human nutrition, said.
Weatherspoon said that these foods typically included high-sugar snacks and cereals as well as instant or canned soups, sugar-sweetened beverages and several types of candy products.
Elizabeth Taylor Quilliam, project co-director and assistant professor of advertising and public relations said that compared to a typical TV commercial that would last maybe 30 seconds, these games are fun and engaging and children can play them for much longer periods of time.
The researchers noted that some kind of federally mandated policy needs to be addressed, so that there is better control on the type and amount of marketing as well as the kinds of foods that are promoted.
The study is published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease.