Loot boxes may have run into their end of game boss in the form of UK Mental Health Director Claire Murdoch. Murdoch has called for the removal of loot box based systems from games bought by children. The case against loot boxes is not a new one and gaming as a whole has only recently been classified as an potentially addictive activity however with top ten developers utilising the services of addiction consultants to intentionally make their games habit forming it seems the NHS is waking up to the issue and calling for a change.
‘Frankly no company should be setting kids up for addiction by teaching them to gamble on the content of these loot boxes. No firm should sell to children loot box games with this element of chance, so yes those sales should end’
NHS mental health director Claire Murdoch in a statement published by The NHS
This is first time a leading figure in the NHS has called for a stop to loot boxes. Which Belgium already qualify as 'gambling'. For those that don't know loot boxes are systems within a video game or app where you can earn or purchase crates or packages which give you various chances for tiered rewards. The higher the tier, the lower the chance that it will be a prize from your loot box. They work like a slot machine and encourage the player to self soothe by giving themselves a serotonin boost when they pop another crate, often following a loss in a game. The items available in the loot crates are often unavailable through regular play or require hundreds or even thousands of hours of grinding to acquire them all.
Some of the biggest games played by children utilise the loot crate system to massive profit. Games such as Fortnite, Call of Duty, Fifa and Rocket League all make huge sums selling loot crates. (Although Rocket League has recently adapted its system to make most items outright purchasable to presumably sidestep to oncoming legislation which seem increasingly likely to be brought into law in the UK following the recent NHS position.)
In 2017 the UK Gambling Commission said loot boxes do not qualify as gambling under current British law, however opinion on the matter is starting to shift and the systems are intentionally exploitative and designed exactly like gambling machines. The only reason they are perceptibly not considered gambling is the inability to officially convert your earnings into real money however this is entirely possible through a growing digital item black market available through eBay, Facebook groups and dedicated websites which will pay you real cash for your digital items.
So what can a parent do?
> Understand the games your children are playing and identify if those games contain loot box systems.
> Turn off in app purchases from devices such as phones or tablets and remove the stored credit card details on your children's consoles to avoid any unexpected bills.
> Speak to your child and explain to them that loot boxes are designed to entice players to spend hours playing the game and spend money. Most games can still be played and completed without using loot boxes.
Importantly it’s time to start observing the PEGI in game ratings which are generally ignored by parents but exist to ensure the content we allow them to binge is age appropriate. Take a look at the following ratings guide to get to grips with it.
So not only should you be looking to ensure your children aren’t overdosing on screen time it’s time to start considering the content they play and how that may be designed with gambling systems and addiction habit creating mechanisms.
Around 39 per cent of British teenagers spent money on gambling in 2018, according to a report by the Gambling Commission entitled Young People and Gambling 2018.
A report on Parent Zone shows that nearly half a million kids have gambled on an in game item at least once. Put some time aside to discuss in game loot boxes with your child and set some boundaries.
Standing to Game
Video games are not inherently bad. Many video games are well designed entertaining or educational experiences which do not contain loot boxes. If you or your child play video games then a standing desk can be an excellent way to ensure that screen time isn’t necessarily couch time and reap some calorie burning benefits whilst you indulge the hobby.
Our standing desks are used by gamers for streaming sessions or casual play and ensure that players can give their best with the added benefit of freedom of movement, greater blood oxygenation and eye level monitors.
Players experience heightened attentiveness and better results whilst standing to play. Streamers benefit from navigating traditionally long sitting sessions and have improved health and engagement with their audience. You can check out our range of standing desks here.
Companies are predatory, they will continue to create systems to extract money from their customers and if their users are children this means they are just going to do it more divisively and sneakily to side step changing laws. The NHS making a stand now and calling for a ban may lead to more regulation however it’s heavily under regulated for the time being so parents need to buckle in for a battle for your children’s minds and your wallets against the brightest characters, peer pressure and predatory games companies. Fight the good fight and be sure not to quash the fun in the meantime or you'll simply become the enemy.
Teach yourself to understand the games and what they contain. Open dialogue and honest explanations go a long way with children. Their adult response may just surprise you.
Further reading: What are loot boxes?
Just as it's been proven that brands encouraging our kids to watch YouTuber/Twitch presenters peddle Doritos and Mountain Dew increases those brands junk food sales it seems the correlation between the media we let or children engage with and their eating habits has been further illustrated in a new study which shows that kids who watch healthy food based cooking shows are twice as likely to choose to snack healthily.
“Kids who watched a child-oriented cooking show featuring healthy food were 2.7 times more likely to make a healthy food choice than those who watched a different episode of the same show featuring unhealthy food,”
- The study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behaviour.
The study which was based in the Netherlands, included 125 kids from five schools who were aged between 10 and 12.
The kids watched a Dutch TV show designed for children and were then offered a snack options as a reward. The kids who watched the healthy kids oriented cooking show opted for the cucumber slices and apples over pretzels and crisps.
Frans Folkvord, PhD, of Tilburg University, Tilburg, Netherlands, who ran the study believes that positive TV programming can change the way children regard healthy foods and that kids can be steered towards healthier choices with "positive peer and teacher modelling".
As a parent it's hard to ignore the notion that kids do what we show them and not what we tell them. Hopefully some of the ideas from this study can be applied on a national level when it comes to planning and programming in the UK as part of the countries fight back against the growing childhood obesity epidemic reducing our kids estimated lifespans year after year.
We recently wrote about the fact that kids being involved in the preparation of food increases the chance that they make healthy choices. ( Childhood Obesity Solved: Teach Kids To Cook. ) So it seems we are in dire need of an increase in kid focused cooking shows which encourage kids to understand and get involved in food preparation.
Parents and teachers wanting to encourage their pupils and kids to watch kids focused cooking shows which encourage participation can look no further than shows such as "Kids Baking Show" and "Chopped Junior" on the Food Network and the CBeebies show "I Can Cook" featured here.
BBC Goodfood has a series of online kids cooking recipes you can try out together.
"Modern reliance on ready-prepared foods and a lack of modelling by parents in preparing fresh foods have led to a drop in cooking skills among kids”
The study talks about modelling and encourages parents to help teach kids how to cook safely. The habit of eating healthy much like being active stays with us into adulthood. If this country is to try and combat the growing obesity figures with real changes then a shift in the culture of kids programming and some laws to protect our children from persuasive and predatory kids programming (ON TV and online) needs to come into place.
One great method to get kids into eating fruit and veg is to challenge them to fit three colours onto their plate every day. Look at this selection, its much prettier than chicken nuggets and chips. Lets use that.
For now it’s simply up to you to ensure your children get outside, get active and eat healthily and the best way to influence them to do this is to show them how much fun it is.
“Increased cooking skills among children can positively influence their consumption of fruit and vegetables in a manner that will persist into adulthood.” - Frans Folkvord lead author of the study.
Kid’s cookery classes are also available throughout the UK - a list compiled by BBC good food has some good options.
Parents looking to also encourage healthy habits at home can purchase a kids standing desk on this site here. Whilst teachers and schools looking to include standing desk options in their classrooms can undertake a try before you buy trial at their school by filling in this small form.
The solution is holistic. A cultural shift. A series of small changes which add up to a change in attitude and perception of activity and health. Our children are fixated on their devices so lets co-opt that desire to binge watch media content for good, by spending a little bit of time curating their viewing options.
"The man who moves mountains begins by carrying away small stones." - Confucius
Jonathan Haslam has produced an article this week asking the question of whether "Can schools be expected to solve the obesity crisis?” Haslam is the Director of the Institute for Effective Education. The IEE is an independent charity promoting the use of evidence in education policy and decision making so it stands to reason that Haslam is well placed to ask the question. Haslam cites the following recently published studies;
A randomised controlled trial of the West Midlands Active Lifestyle and Healthy Eating in School Children (WAVES) intervention.
The trial included 1500 five and six year olds from 54 primary schools and lasted 12 months.
The trial included;
- Increasing moderate to vigorous physical exercise (MVPA) on each school day.
- cooking workshops, when parents were invited to participate.
- a six-week programme to encourage healthy eating and increase physical vitality, delivered by the local professional football club
- Information sheets supporting children and their families to be active over the summer.
Children’s vital obesity stats were tracked at the start of the trial and then again after 15 and 30 months. The results were compared to a control group. The mean difference was completely negligible meaning these interventions were of no use and ultimately unsuccessful.
Now Haslam makes the sound point that primary school children may not have been the appropriate focus group and become less active as they become older so he proposes the test should perhaps have been undertaken with secondary school children.
One study found that exercising after study may help you remember.
The other cited study analyses the impacts of Girls Active a programme developed by the Youth Sport Trust that supplied a framework to schools reviewing their Physical Education offerings to ensure they are relevant to and interesting to adolescent girls focussing on 11-14 year olds.
Twenty secondary schools participated however only ten of which actually received the intervention and the other ten acted as a control. The success of the scheme was primarily measured in MVPA recorded on wrist based accelerometers. Then levels of activity, sedentary time, body mass and psychosocial measures were also recorded. The result of this scheme was successful in larger schools but contrarily smaller schools actually recorded a decrease in MVPA. Haslam noted smaller schools might be distracted by the schemes so much that benefit is lost.
Both of the studies resulted in negative results and Haslam speculates that from this we should perhaps determine that the onus shouldn’t be on the schools to address the obesity crisis. Given the limited resources of schools making the right choice is of course essential however when Haslam uses the above referenced studies to remind schools that investment in addressing positive change toward pupil health and physical literacy might result in no improvement this writer believes his point to be overly conclusive based on limited data and don’t discount the benefit of school wide health improvements.
So what do I mean? Well the first study was of only 1500 children. These kids were five to six year olds. Primary schools admit children from the ages of five through to eleven. The studied group were only just beginning their scholastic journey. Now health officials say nearly four in ten children leaving primary school will be overweight or obese by 2024.
The proportion of children aged ten and eleven who are an unhealthy weight when they leave primary school is predicted to rise by 11 per cent within five years, from 34.3 per cent to 38.1 per cent.
The focus group in this study was not of the older primary school who over time in the school environment have lessened their activity levels, adopted screen time as their favourite past times and decided they are too cool for sport.
In reality older primary school children should see benefit if they have five or six years of adopting good habits driven into them by an established proactive methodology to counteract childhood obesity from the moment they enter the school system.
The second study focused on only ten secondary schools in one region of the country. Within this isolated group the targets were made to focus exclusively on girls of a two year age range. Once again incredibly specific and the range of results from positive to negative almost discount each other making the resulting take-away's diluted at best.
Citing studies of small focus groups and less ‘at-risk’ demographics which then show considerably poor results is unsurprising and not indicative of the potential for physical health improving schemes implemented across the primary and secondary school age ranges establishing a culture of positive health which can have long term positive effects on attitudes to exercise and healthy eating.
Our recent articles demonstrate how schools can have a significant impact on pupil health if they open their facilities up to the communities they serve and modify their in house physical literacy curriculum's and lunch time menus.
In short, this writer believes small isolated trials can often fail but the theory is sound that small healthy changes can add up to big results and long term studies of school wide schemes need to be undertaken to establish how successful en-mass change can be to lowering the childhood obesity problem.
This writer believes we must implement school wide change to see real results to the next generation’s attitude towards personal health, well-being and sedentary behaviour. Our children’s potential lifespans are expected to be 5 years shorter than our own, so obviously real change is required urgently.
One such way to accomplish this is the implementation of standing desks in every classroom. Some schools is the US have gone entirely standing and whilst this may be far off into the future for UK schools hundreds of schools are adopting flexible seating such as our own Eiger student standing desks into their learning spaces and the anecdotal positive physical and mental health benefits being reported are significant.
One study of standing desk classrooms discovered a reduced BMI of 5.24% after just 12 months. Meanwhile standing students are 16% more likely to engage in class as they are more focused and remain on task longer.
Implementing physical literacy with standing desks, BBC super Movers, The Daily Mile and school running clubs such as marathon kids demonstrate an adoption of the school wide method. No one service, scheme or product is a silver bullet but used together in a school wide change will allow you to adapt and mould the next generation’s attitude towards movement and health to divert the course we are currently on.
With genuine effort to effect change we can give the kids their 5 years back and get their faces out of screens and into the fresh air so they become habitually active. Active kids are statistically more likely to become active adults and suffer less disease and ill health.
Only time will tell if we do enough but small changes stack up and doing nothing because sometimes health schemes don’t measure well isn’t going to contribute to the greater good.
Combine your efforts with your pupils, with parents, with your different departments and your local businesses to show your community you are a health positive school by adopting some health-centric ideals. If you want to talk to us about how we can help then get in touch for a try before you buy trial or just to talk through how our desks can work with your existing programs for health.
Schools are being encouraged to sign up to the Playground Challenge to raise money for Soccer Aid. The idea being that pupils help to design an outdoor assault course and fun sporty activities like headmaster penalty shoot-outs or teacher versus parent footy matches are held to raise money for UNICEF.
“The kids loved the Playground Challenge so much we organised a whole Soccer Aid for Unicef week. Every class took on the obstacle course, we held a pupils vs teachers/parents football match, a keepy-uppy challenge and loads of other activities.” Alex, Head of Sports, St Dunstan’s RC Primary School, Manchester
School can use whatever they have available and indoor or outdoor assault courses are used by thousands of participant schools to join in. The activities get the kids thinking about other countries and cultures and helps them understand that not everybody has the opportunity to learn and play as they do. Money raised is distributed to foreign countries in the form of various kits.
- £172 could provide a preschool-in-a-box, full of toys, games and books to help children learn through play.
- £375 could build a whole community playground in Zambia so that 100 children can play.
- £1,124 could provide a tent for a temporary school or clinic to help children live safe, healthy and happy lives.
This kind of fundraising has so many plus sides. Giving kids some social awareness by using the assembly plans to introduce them to relate-able case study’s whilst reaping the positive physical and mental health benefits of getting the whole school outside and moving seems like an no-brainer to us and we encourage schools to join thousands of others and sign up for a free playground challenge kit here
Until the 23rd July Money raised will also be matched pound for pound by the UK government so your schools donation could potentially have a real effect on children throughout the world.