Creating action plans in a serious video game increases and maintains child fruit-vegetable intake: a randomized controlled trial

Child fruit and vegetable intake is below recommended levels, increasing risk for chronic disease. Interventions to influence fruit and vegetable intake among youth have had mixed effects. Innovative, theory-driven interventions are needed. Goal setting, enhanced by implementation intentions (i.e., plans tightly connected to a behavioral goal), may offer a solution. Action plans state “how” a goal will be achieved, while coping plans identify a potential barrier and corresponding solution. The research reported here evaluated the short- and long-term effects of goal setting enhanced with implementation intentions on child fruit and vegetable intake in a 10-episode, theoretically-grounded serious videogame promoting fruit and vegetables. This is one of the first studies to test the efficacy of implementation intentions on the dietary intake of healthy children.
A four-group randomized design with three data collection periods (baseline, immediate post-intervention, 3 months post-intervention) was employed. Groups varied on whether children created an implementation intention (none, action, coping, both) as part of goal setting. Participants were 4th and 5th grade children (~9-11 years old) and one parent. An a priori power analysis indicated this would provide >80% power to detect a small effect (Cohen’s d = 0.17). Children played a 10-episode online videogame; parents received 10 electronic newsletters and access to a parent-only website. The primary outcome was child fruit and vegetable intake, assessed via three, dietitian-assisted telephone recalls at each data collection period. The primary analysis was conducted using a repeated measures analysis of covariance with a mixed model procedure. Secondary analyses examined intervention effects on fruit and vegetables separately.
Four hundred parent/child dyads were recruited. A significant group-by-time interaction for fruit and vegetable intake (p < 0.001) was found in only the Action group, which had significant increases in fruit and vegetable intake at post 1 (p < 0.0001) and post 2 (p < 0.0001). No other significant interactions were observed; however, there were significant time effects for fruit (p < 0.0001).
Action intentions may be an important component of successful interventions to increase and maintain fruit and vegetable intake in pre-adolescent children. Videogames promoting healthy diets offer an effective vehicle for delivering behavior change interventions to children.Trial NCT01004094.