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Online game ‘may control snacking’

  • 26 June 2015
  • From the section Health
Tempted by a donut

A computer game may help some people control their unhealthy snacking habits, suggests a small study from the University of Exeter.

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The game trained participants’ brains to cut out calories by telling them to avoid pressing on pictures of certain images, such as biscuits and chocolate.

They lost a small amount of weight and appeared to eat fewer calories for up to six months afterwards.

The 10-minute game was played four times in one week.

Forty-one adults took part in the study, published in the journal Appetite.

The majority were overweight, and all said they ate calorie-dense snacks, such as crisps, biscuits, cake and chocolate, at least three times a week.

Train the brain

The online game, developed by psychologists at the University of Exeter and Cardiff University, used “brain training” techniques to change behaviour – in this case, to resist unhealthy snack foods.

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It required people to avoid pressing a key when an unhealthy food appeared on the screen.

This type of training helps people associate this unhealthy food with “stopping”, the researchers said.

The results were compared with another group of 41 adults who completed the same training, but involving non-food pictures.

The results showed that participants lost an average of 1.5lb (0.7kg) and consumed around 220 fewer calories a day during the week of training.

Food diaries in the following six months suggested that the participants maintained their improved habits.

Dr Natalia Lawrence, from the University of Exeter, who led the research, said the game had the ability to change some people’s eating behaviour, but it was still early days.

“This research is still in its infancy and the effects are modest. Larger, registered trials with longer-term measures need to be conducted.

“However, our findings suggest that this cognitive training approach is worth pursuing: it is free, easy to do and 88% of our participants said they would be happy to keep doing it.”

She said this type of training could be used as one element of a weight loss programme or for improving eating behaviour.

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