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 registrationClinicalTrials.gov NCT01004094.