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Casual Gaming an Effective Tool Against Obesity?

by Rainier on March 24, 2009 @ 5:44 p.m. PDT

A few days ago, a study investigating the levels of energy expended when playing video games indicated video gaming could become a part of recommended daily physical activity. Now, another study reveals that casual gaming could be an effective tool in the fight against obesity by helping dieters control their cravings.

A PopCap sanctioned pilot study that set out to assess if casual gaming could aid weight loss has revealed that casual gaming could be an effective tool in the fight against obesity by helping dieters control their cravings.

The trial, conducted in January 2009, was hampered by some participants not finishing the trial but for those who did complete the trial, playing PopCap’s Bejeweled Twist to distract from snack attacks had 100% success in beating cravings and lifting mood. PopCap.co.uk is so encouraged by the initial findings that the company has committed to conducting further research into the positive health benefits of casual gaming later in the year.

Leading UK dietician, Nigel Denby, who conducted the research, commented: “While trial results were scientifically inconclusive due to a low number of participants completing the month-long programme, there were some interesting findings. For those who finished the trial, we saw that on all occasions Bejeweled Twist was used, it prevented eating due to a craving, with participants reporting forgetting about their cravings whilst playing the game.”

“In addition to forgetting about cravings, these respondents also reported that their mood improved or changed following gameplay. Mood is a major cravings trigger for many dieters, with stress at work, anger, or sadness commonly reported as flashpoints. Distraction is a well established method to help people overcome stress related food cravings.”

Trial participant, Debbie Hodgson (39), London, who had never played computer games before participating in the trial, said: “My cravings have noticeably reduced since I started this trial and I lost 7 lbs over 4 weeks.”

PopCap.co.uk spokesperson Cathy Orr added: “We have so many customers with full case studies who tell us that they use our games as part of their weight management so I had pretty high hopes for a scientific result. That said, there are some interesting learnings – for instance that they found casual gaming more compelling a distraction than watching TV! I suppose that’s because it’s natural to sit in front of the TV with snacks, but try topping your highest Bejeweled Twist score while fumbling with a bag of crisps!

Results In Brief

  • The average craving-related snacking equated to 249 calories a day. It may not sound like a lot but that’s 1743 calories a week – or in dieting terms, 4 spin classes!
    • Consuming an additional 249 calories a day (in addition to the recommended 2000 calories a day for a woman) equates to 30 lbs of weight gain over a year
    • Reaching for the keyboard instead of the corkscrew could help beat the ‘crave and cave’ cycle – just one glass of red wine and 4 squares of dark chocolate could mean an extra 250 calories a day
    • Dietician, Nigel Denby, said: If a daily 200 Kcal reduction in total calorie intake as a result of reduced craving related eating could be maintained over a period of time, this could contribute to weight loss and weight management.
  • Those that completed the trial would recommend casual gaming to other dieters as a weight management technique - and reported it more compelling than watching tv
  • Casual gaming as a distraction technique is most likely to work for you if you already play computer games during the course of your everyday life – be that Wii-ing with the kids, or playing Solitaire on the PC. So get playing!
  • Stress was noted as the most common cause of craving related eating. Given the current climate, modern lives are becoming increasingly stressful, therefore we could expect to see calorie intake increasing as a result of stress related cravings in the future
  • The distraction technique might even work for other types of behaviour - one participant reported it helped curb her smoking habit as she needed her hands for the engaging gameplay

Grace Fellows (59), Clitheroe, played computer games 2-3 times a month prior to the trial: “It wouldn’t have occurred to me to use a casual game to fight cravings. It’s a great idea and really easy to do. I am trying to lose weight before m y 60th birthday and have lost over a stone since the trial started.”

Susan Conway (55), London, had never played computer games before participating in the trial: “When I started the trial I didn’t think I would stick with it but playing the game was really good and helped with my cravings.”

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