Mobile games featuring snack foods are becoming increasingly popular with kids.
But with the childhood obesity rate as high as 17%, consumer health experts and the federal government are concerned. They are also pushing advertisers to change the way they market food to kids.
Using tablets and mobile devices, some kids are now swirling slushy drinks, jiggling gelatin snacks and flicking lollipops.
"I think as long as the game is engaging to them then they're kind of hooked and want to keep playing it," says mother Aimee Yoon.
Aime's kids are among the estimated 1.2 million children who play advergames. They are branded, interactive games designed to market products, largely via apps.
They tout cereals, candy and fast food, and that concerns kids health experts like Jennifer Harris at Yale University.
"When children played the unhealthy advergames they ate about 50% more snack food immediately afterwards than kids who didn't play those games," said Dr. Harris.
The Federal Trade Commission(FTC) doesn't have the power to regulate marketing food to children, but it can make recommendations. And the agency recommends companies only advertise foods that meet "meaningful nutrition standards".
But that recommendation carries little weight.
"The government doesn't define meaningful nutrition standards. Right now, it's up to each individual company to decide what that is," says the FTC's Mary Engle.
The FTC drafted voluntary food marketing guidelines for children, but the push lost steam in Congress.
The Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative(CFBAI) has pledged to market healthier foods, Still, some companies claim their advergames aren't targeting children, but older teens and adults, so they're free from those guidelines.
"Our job is not to tell parents how to parent, or tell them what media or what apps or web sites their children should watch or engage with," said Elaine Kolish, a spokesperson for the CFBAI.
Dr. Harris responds by saying, "They need to admit that these games are very popular with children and they're having an impact."
The CFBAI has issued a set of new nutrition criteria that places limits on things like calories, sugar and saturated fat. Members must adopt the new standards by December 31st, 2013.
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