Experiment on kids’ snacking during videogame play on a sofa versus play on a treadmill (Mellecker et al., 2010)

One of the things that surprised me while living in the States is the stockings groceries have in comparison to back home in Montreal. For example, those fruits cups in juice contain more cherry than any other fruits. What the hell? It’s like people are driven by emotional stimuli and desires than healthy rationality. I very much enjoy eating the one cherry in the cup than a fistful, thank you very much.

Anyways, the general research literature on eating habits interacting with media habits is that more time spent on media equates to more risk towards obesity. I haven’t looked deeply into the manner how media makes it that way, although I gathered that sedentary activities, including general media use (i.e. television, computer, and videogames), is a causative factor for obesity.

PhD student Robin Mellecker (University of Hong Kong) and company published a study in Appetite. It’s an experimental study looking into the eating behaviours while playing videogames in the traditional ass-on-the-couch versus the novel play-while-you-walk-on-a-treadmill. You can already see how an experiment might lack some applicability to the real world.

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to examine whether the addition of a motor component to video gaming alters energy consumption. To address this problem we used an experimental manipulation design with 9–13 year olds incorporating ‘seated video game’ and ‘activity enhanced video game’ conditions, whilst allowing snacks ad libitum. No difference in snacking between the two video gaming conditions was apparent. The children consumed 374 and 383 kcal h−1 during seated and activity enhanced video gaming, respectively. A secondary purpose was to examine consistency of energy intake during free choice video game play. We found no difference in energy intake between four 1 h free choice video gaming sessions. Snacking energy intake whilst video gaming was 166% more than the calories required during resting conditions. This study has shown that the addition of a motor component to the video game environment does not alter snack energy intake. However, the high calorific consumption during both seated and activity enhanced video game play highlights the need for an active attempt to restrict snacking whilst playing video games.

I realize I’m a full-blown grad student when I counted the shear amount of time wasted and the actual work done.

There are some interesting pieces in their literature review that’s worth a look. One suggestion is that we eat less while playing videogames because our hands are occupied by the gamepad. On the other hand, they referred to Leonard Epstein’s article (2009) found otherwise that videogames acts “as an attentional distracting inhibiting satiety and disrupting habituation to the sensory properties of food.” Do you mean videogames distract us how full our stomachs are and food always looks so appetizing?

The primary impetus of this study is the new motion capture gameplay, such as the Wii. They wanted to see how the increased physical activity, which burns more energy than traditional gaming, would affect appetite and whether it is significantly different from the traditional way. They also wanted to investigate whether adding a second cognitive distraction, the physical exercise, to the videogame would enhance the distraction and make food as appetizing as ever. I don’t know about if physical exercise is a cognitive distracter, I don’t see it as cognitively engaging activity. I’ll punch a theoretical hole right now is the role of presence (and flow) in food consumption during play, a person so immersed in the game might forgo their physical needs longer than unimmersed players because their focus is in the virtual environment and the goal-oriented activities within it are much salient than food or bathroom breaks. But this is not enough to excuse videogames from contributing a role in our dietary habits. Well, I don’t remember a study that looks into presence and eating habits, so I might as well add it to my list of research ideas.

Methods

Participants: a convenience sample of 30 kids in primary school, average age is 11, age range is 9 to 13. 17 girls and 10 boys. No physical limitations or chronic diseases. They didn’t say where they conducted the experiment, but 10 were identified as Asian and 17 as Caucasian. And 3 kids were left out of the analysis due to incomplete data, 2 kids were repatriated to their home country and another kid had three tooth extractions! That convenience sampling is -1 for generalizability, the authors acknowledged that.

Measures (well not really)

Anthropometry: height and weight were measured.

Snacks: Since it’s a study on behavioural nutrition, they go technical on describing the snacks used in the experiment, such as weight, calories, some nutritional facts, etc. So, I just shrugged my shoulders and write down that they served the kids on a paper bowl on a pre-determined serving for each of the snacks: Oreo Minis, Arnotts Pizza Shapes, Goldfish crackers, and mini Chips Ahoys. If the kids finished a serving, another serving is given.

Physical activity: the Physical Activity Monitoring System used to monitor body posture, and ambulation (jargon for walking).

Videogames used and the experimental apparatus: The Xbox, but no specific videogame mentioned. Will it pose a problem? Not necessarily, unless it’s game that explicitly promotes food advertising. Videogame content effects would be in the realm of Communication scholars or psychologists whichever is interested. One condition is sitting on the sofa and play. The other condition is… walking on a treadmill while playing the Xbox. Of course, they adapted the treadmill so it as comfortable as possible, but… they argued they’re trying to keep the videogame platform as identical as possible, but that’s just introducing another confounding variable, the unnaturalness of a traditionally seated gameplay. I hope they do over with the Wii or the Kinect.

The treadmill’s speed was set at 1.2 km/h-1, if I read this right and according to Wikipedia, that’s slower than average walking speed. This they argued is to mimic the level of intensity to most physically enhancing videogames. Again, it would be great if they compared with the Wii.

Procedure

The kids and their parents come in the lab for a baseline measure and their resting energy expenditure. Basically, the kids sit and watch a movie of their own choosing in a proscribed posture while the experimenters observe. At that point, I don’t what specific purpose is for. After that, kids were introduced and tried out the gaming conditions, that sofa and the treadmill. The kids were tasked to play two sessions on 2 separate days, so the kids get to play on the sofa and the treadmill for one hour each. Of course, they get to eat those tasty snacks and a 500ml water bottle while playing.

The kids were asked to participate four free-play sessions, in the same manner: one hour with them snacks and they were given a free choice of playing either on the sofa or the treadmill. The gaming sessions are on separate days.

Results

So what the authors found in terms of kids eating mini Oreos while playing either on the sofa, which at that point is ruined, or the treadmill.

Paired t-tests found no differences between the two conditions. The kids going through the sofa condition ate an average of 374 calories (range 105-771), while on the treadmill they ate 383 calories (range 43-973). Huh… how much is that in terms of mini Oreos? That 166% you saw in the abstract, what I can understand is that the snacks consumed on the sofa condition outweighs by 166% from the energy exerted while resting. So that mean the kids gained excess calories while playing.

During the free-play sessions, the kids spent 70% of the time playing on the sofa, while the other 30% on the treadmill. Again, no differences between the conditions and there were no relations on snacking and the percentage of time spent walking. Average calorie intake is 409 calories (range 40-1119).

The authors argue that the energy intake is higher than energy intake during television watching (an average of 156 calories per hour). Even though, they didn’t do a comparison in their experiment, but given that they counted the calories consumed makes it easy to compare with other studies. This might’ve allowed them to forgo the need for adding the television condition, if only the study they referred to didn’t used a self-report measure, which that study did. Another matter is whether the calories consumed would present a risk for obesity, now I don’t know if I’m reading this right, but I’ll quote this: “the energy gap to prevent weight gain in children is estimated to be in the range of 46-165 cal/day.” If I understand this, you won’t gain weight if your energy intake exceeds your energy exertion if it is in that range, so if a kid consumed 243 calories and is in excess of say 200 calories, then that kid should exercise or do some activity to reduce that excess into that range or risk gaining weight. The authors contend that the physically enhancing videogame activity reduces this calorie imbalance, but is not enough.

The authors listed some limitations, such as daily energy intake was not assessed, although the authors asked the kids to keep their diets the same during the experiment and used the snacking differences during the experiment as evidence of constant daily energy intake. They did not measured levels of hunger, desire to eat and satiety. The authors’ suggestion in this context is to limit or prohibit snacking during play. What about snacking after play? Will they consume a lot of snacks after videogame play in comparison to television? Why not asking the kids to integrate exercise after play? There’s so many potential ways to enhance videogame play experiences and to keep a healthy weight.

Mellecker, R. R., Lanningham-Foster, L., Levine, J. A., & McManus, A. M. (2010) Energy intake during activity enhance video game play. Appetite, 55, 343-347. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2010.07.008.

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3 thoughts on “Experiment on kids’ snacking during videogame play on a sofa versus play on a treadmill (Mellecker et al., 2010)

  1. Interesting review, but as you stated, you are a “full blown grad student” and a number of your remarks reflect that.

    I will disclose that I am personal friends of Dr. Mellecker, and while I don’t know Dr. Lanningham-Foster personally, she has done some leading exergaming research while she was at the Mayo Clinic. Both have published numerous times in peer-reviewed journals–I’m curious how many times you have published something? (Personally, I haven’t published anything either, since I’m not in academia but work in a clinical setting and there’s no need or pressure to publish, thankfully!)

    I won’t go point by point on where your assessment is, how shall I say this–mis-guided, but Dr. Mellecker herself said she would be happy to open a discussion on your comments.

    As most researchers know, you can only do so much in a study when there are limitations such as budget. Plus if you answered all the questions in one study, that would cost too much, take too long, and leave nothing for the rest to study!

    I will say this about one of your questions–you wondered why they had the students sit there at rest and watch a movie while they observed them. This is a standard procedure in kcal expenditure studies–establishing a baseline resting metabolic rate to later compare their exercise kcal expenditure to. I have collaborated with Dr. Bryan Haddock, an exercise physiologist from CalState San Bernardino, and one of the leading exergaming researchers in the world, and he has done that in all of our exergaming studies. So I would suggest not making a comment that implies Dr. Mellecker and company were wasting their time unless you know more about exercise physiology research.

    Other than that, I’ll let Dr. Mellecker comment on the rest of your post herself. She is very able to defend herself, so be prepared. (Can’t say that I didn’t warn you….;-)

    Will look forward to when you publish your own exergaming research so we can analyze it after the fact. Good luck!

    Ernie Medina, Jr., DrPH, CHFS
    Exergaming Evangelist
    CEO-MedPlay Technologies
    Preventive Care Specialist, Beaver Medical Group
    Assistant Clinical Prof., Loma Linda University

    • Thank you for reading my post and the time in writing your comments. I’m very appreciative in your criticisms as I explore the vast academic realm’s interest on videogames. It’s good to know that research and outside reviews are given serious attention.

      The question of whether I have published in peer-review journals may not be as important as being able to critically read scientific studies. As you have noted, my understanding in exercise physiology is lacking as my background is in psychology, however this should not be meant as an impediment in my attempt to explore the vast scientific fields and researchers who are interested in videogames. If I have not made my lack of knowledge about exercise physiology clear to readers, then I apologize.

      I do understand that conducting studies must be a balance between parsimony and controlling for confounding variables, the questions I asked are directions for future studies that may lead to interesting insight into children’s eating behaviours.

      I try to write a review in the simplest language possible for any readers to understand research. None of the implied comments would suggest that a certain procedure would be a waste of time. I try to avoid any implied suggestions that would leave room for interpretations that could cause some confusion among readers as it is in this case.

      I welcome any constructive criticisms from anyone as it should be with any scientific discourses and this would help me and others understand the diverse perspectives of the scientific fields.

  2. If you feel so strongly about the study then perhaps you should apply for funding and run the study with your comments?

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