Research Study Abstract

Video Games That Encourage Healthy Behavior Did Not Alter Fasting Insulin or Other Diabetes Risks in Children: Randomized Clinical Trial

  • Published on August 2, 2019

Previous research indicates games for health have substantial promise in promoting change in children’s diet and physical activity (PA) behavior for obesity and diabetes prevention, but the research has generally not been rigorous. The study reported here was an efficacy trial of two role-playing video games played in sequence, “Escape from Diab” (hereinafter called Diab) and “Nanoswarm: Invasion from Inner Space” (hereinafter called Nano), on diabetes and obesity risk factors: fasting insulin and body mass index (BMI), and risk-related behaviors: diet, PA, and sedentary behavior (SB).

A two-group (treatment vs. wait list control) randomized clinical trial was used with baseline, immediate postintervention (∼3 months postbaseline), and 2 months postassessments.

Diab and Nano were desktop or laptop role-playing video games with nine sessions (each episode/session lasting ∼60 minutes). Two storylines attempted to immerse players and used ethnically diverse characters to model desired behaviors. Tailored goal setting, problem solving, and motivational statements were used.

A sample of 200 overweight or obese children (ages 10–12 years from 85th to 99th BMI percentile [%ile]) was recruited, primarily using a volunteer list. Fasting insulin was the primary dependent variable. BMI, fruit, vegetable and sweetened beverage intakes, PA, and SBs were secondary outcomes. Generalized linear mixed models were used to test for the treatment effects.

No significant differences were detected in any of the tested outcome variables.

The lack of differences may indicate that games cannot change dietary behaviors and thereby not change-related clinical outcomes. Alternatively, there seem to have been changes in (1) the types of video games children expect and like to play since a pilot study was conducted, (2) productization challenges, and/or (3) problems in staff management of the trial. All may have contributed to the lack of effect.


  • Tom Baranowski 1
  • Janice Baranowski 1
  • Tzu-An Chen 2
  • Richard Buday 3
  • Alicia Beltran 1
  • Hafza Dadabhoy 1
  • Courtney Ryan 1
  • Amy S. Lu 4,5


  • 1

    Department of Pediatrics, USDA/ARS Children's Nutrition Research Center, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas

  • 2

    HEALTH Research Institute, University of Houston, Houston, Texas

  • 3

    Archimage, Inc., Houston, Texas

  • 4

    Health Technology Lab, Department of Communication Studies, College of Arts, Media & Design, Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts

  • 5

    Department of Health Sciences, Bouvé College of Health Sciences, Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts


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