Scientists have devised a seven- minute brain-training computer game that may help children choose healthy snacks over chocolates and sweets.The game involves reacting to images of healthy food by pressing a button, and doing nothing if unhealthy foods are shown.
Children who played the simple game developed by researchers from University of Exeter in the UK made healthier choices when asked to pick foods afterwards.
"The sight of foods like chocolate can activate reward centres in the brain at the same time as reducing activity in self-control areas," said Lucy Porter from University of Exeter.
"Our training encourages people to make a new association - when they see unhealthy food, they stop," Porter said.
Researchers showed images of healthy and unhealthy foods to more than 200 school children aged 4-11. Alongside each image a cartoon face - happy for healthy food, sad for unhealthy food - was shown.
Children had to hit the space-bar when they saw a happy face, and do nothing if they saw a sad face - they were not told that the game had anything to do with healthy or unhealthy food.
Afterwards, the participants played a shopping game where they had to choose a limited number of food items in one minute.
"We did not see a total turnaround in favour of choosing healthy options, but there was an increase from about 30 per cent of foods chosen to over 50 per cent in children who did the brain training," Porter said.
Researcher noted that children in control groups - who were shown happy and sad faces mixed evenly between healthy and unhealthy foods, or images which were not food-related at all - showed no change in food choices.
Age did not affect whether the game worked or not, meaning that children as young as four can benefit from playing, researchers said.
"This easy game does all the hard work for you. It is not about learning anything consciously, it is about working with automatic responses," Porter said.
The study was published in the journal Appetite.