Most of us associate playing computer games with being couch potatoes, but this doesn't have to be the case, according to a study published in the journal Appetite.
Scientists in the UK were sponsored by the Wellcome Trust to create a computer game that can stop people snacking and make them lose weight.
Called “stop versus go”, it shows the player a series of images of unhealthy and healthy foods, teaching them to repeatedly avoid pressing on images of biscuits and other fattening treats, while encouraging them to press on all other images.
When it was tried out on a sample of nearly 100 adults with weights ranging from healthy to obese, this “brain training” successfully stopped them eating so many calorific snacks and gave them an overall higher level of self-control.
On average, playing the game for just 40 minutes over a week made participants take in around 220 fewer calories each day, leading to a weight loss of 0.7kg. The game was still having the positive effect on eating six months after the trial.
The findings also offer long-term hope for treating obese people and alcoholics, according to lead researcher Natalia Lawrence:
These findings are among the first to suggest that a brief, simple computerised tool can change people's everyday eating behaviour. It is exciting to see the effects of our lab studies translate to the real world. This research is still in its infancy and the effects are modest.
With 64 per cent of adults in Britain now overweight or obese, researchers are looking for ways to improve the situation urgently. With support from the European Research Council, Lawrence hopes to test the game out in a much larger trial.