The researchers from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology say so-called emerging adults (EAs), defined as adults aged 18 to 25, remain a difficult group to engage in healthy behaviour, including positive dieting, nutrition and eating patterns.
Furthermore, they say the literature is mixed on how online game environments, including eSports and game streaming, can be used to positively engage EAs.
In this scoping review, they identified and analysed research on online games, EAs, and dietary patterns to create a behavioural ecological map of influences.
The researchers identified 75 studies that identified potential influences on the diet behaviours of EAs in the online gaming arena.
Most studies (n = 49; 65.3%) were published between 2017 and 2022, with the largest number of studies published in 2021 (n = 13; 17.3%).
They divided the influences of online gaming into three areas - the community, the local and the individual.
At the community level, they said video game producers have a role in influencing the health of players passively through gameplay mechanics and the development and release of exergames.
Moreover, eSports athletes, many of whom are EAs themselves, have increasingly been the subjects of research linking their health to game performance.
“eSports are becoming more professionalised, there is an increased focus on the link between physical health and in-game performances for eSports athletes. Improving health regimes, such as physical activity training and the use of nutritionists to plan meals, have become part of the training for eSports athletes due to the benefits of improving in-game focus,” the researchers wrote, suggesting this could be used to motivate better nutrition among all gamers.
However, they also found that products that are detrimental to health have become commonplace in online games including tobacco, energy-dense nutrient-poor foods, and sugar-sweetened beverages.
“For health and nutrition intervention, this suggests a potential opportunity through a range of media channels and influences at this level that are already being utilised by other organisations to engage EAs,” they said.
At the local level, the online and virtual worlds that EAs enter through online games could influence their real-world actions.
“Gamers who play virtual sports games are also more likely to engage in the sport in real life. Augmented games, which embed virtual elements into the real environment, have been shown to increase physical activity, whilst eSports, which involve players and teams competing in virtual games, attract audiences in both virtual and physical spaces,” they noted.
At the individual level, EAs used online games to maintain relationships with their current friendship networks and to create new relationships and networks online.
“Previous research has already shown the importance of peer networks in influencing the diet behaviours of EAs, but there is little research to understand how game-related peer networks impact this behaviour,” the researchers found.
They concluded that the high levels of online game usage by EAs and the increase in viewership through eSports and streaming platforms make this an important platform for long-term health and nutrition behaviours.
“The results of this scoping review provide an opportunity for researchers, health promotion agencies, and health practitioners to combat the worsening diet outcomes of EAs by delivering interventions through a behavioural ecology that EAs are already highly engaged in. The current use of this behavioural ecology for the promotion of products that worsen diet outcomes, such as the promotion of EDNP foods and sugar-sweetened beverages, further highlights the importance of exploring this ecology to improve health.”
'Improving the Health of Emerging Adult Gamers—A Scoping Review of Influences'
Authors: David Micallef et al.