It seems the most popular mobile video game of the year is also the unhealthiest, so to speak. A recent report published by Frans Folkvord, a behavioral scientist from Radboud University, suggests that playing candy-related games, like Candy Crush, can significantly increase how many calories a child consumes.

"In contrast to television, where the clearly delimited blocks of commercials can help viewers guard against temptation, on the Internet, advertising is mixed with other types of content," Folkvord said in a statement. "The websites of food manufacturers contain games, which also offer children the option of sharing games with their friends."

Folkvord and his colleagues gauged the effects of hidden online food advertisements, promulgated by Candy Crush and similar food-related games, on the eating behavior of more than 1,000 children. Children were given five-minute breaks in between playing so-called advergames with or without embedded food advertisements and were offered actual candy or an apple.

Children who played food-related games with an embedded toy advertisement ended up consuming 55 percent more of the candy offered to them. These children ate, on average, 72 more calories (around 16 M&Ms or 10 candy cola bottles) compared to children from the control group. What’s worse is only 6 percent of these children realized these games were just intricate advertisements.

Folkvord estimates that two-thirds of all children at primary-school age play an Internet game that was created for the sole purpose of drawing attention to a brand at least once a week. Even though eating candy seemed to have no effect on each child’s body mass index (BMI) two years after the experiment, children who picked an apple over candy had lower BMI two years later compared to children who chose candy.

"Children play a game, get hungry and reach for treats. As the cycle continues, children fail to learn healthy eating behavior," Folkvord added. "The results of my study indicate that these advertisements have an even heavier influence on children who are already overweight."

Although Folkvord urges a discussion concerning the prohibition of food commercials aimed toward children and is collaborating with the University of Barcelona to work on recommendation for the European Union, there is a simpler solution for Candy Crush fans: Have your child switch to one of the hundred other match-three games that are not centered around unhealthy food.

Source: Anschütz D, Boyland E, Kelly B, Buijzen M, Folkvord F. Food advertising and eating behavior in children. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences. 2015.