When targeting childhood obesity, what makes better sense than using games as a tool?
Online Games for Healthy Eating
Games targeting healthy behaviors are proliferating. A study published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine found that children who played a health game were significantly more likely to select and eat healthier foods than kids who played a game without healthy-stimuli.
What else does gaming bring that might also be new and important in the fight against childhood obesity? Gaming may make it a little more fun.
Online Games Fight Childhood Obesity
How can something as seemingly trivial as games improve children’s eating habits and, consequently, their health? How can games be used to stymy childhood obesity? Nutrition in and of itself is boring to children while gaming is fun, exciting, and addicting. So applying gaming theory to nutrition education in the form of online games and mobile apps enables the capture of children’s imaginations and engages them in learning to eat healthy as they play.
There is much hope for health games as a tool to prevent childhood obesity. A study conducted by Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX, showed playing games produced positive results in dietary change and physical activity among youths.
Yum Num’s Galaxy is a cooking game for kids ages 2-6. The family-friendly nutritional learning game features access to healthy recipes used to create meals for aliens in an outer space adventure game for kids. Get the Yum Num’s Galaxy free download on iTunes.
Let’s Play! Games for Healthy Kids
First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign and the USDA kicked off the Apps for Healthy Kids challenge. Offering $60,000.00 in prizes, they challenged software developers, game designers, students, and others to develop fun and engaging software tools and games that help children eat better, be more physically active, and get fit. See all of the winning games in the Apps for Healthy Kids challenge.
ZisBoomBah offers online educational games to help children and parents learn about food in a fun way. Taking first place in Michele Obama’s Apps for Healthy Kids Contest, their free “Pick Chow!” online game pictured above allows children to create meals by dragging and dropping foods onto their virtual plate. The “Add it Up!” meters show the nutritional values in a fun and easy way and rates each meal with one to five stars – a feature that helps children learn quickly how their choices make a difference in creating a well-balanced meal. Children can send their “chow” to their parents, who then receive an email with what their child has chosen to be a healthy choice for breakfast, lunch and dinner, along with the menu, recipe, shopping list and coupons.
Changing Child’s Eating Behaviors
Changing any behavior requires an understanding of human psychology, specifically the benefits and barriers associated with a particular health behavior, for example weight-related behaviors. Game developers historically have studied human behavior and developed games based on their observations. Playing games meets psychological needs; children and adults have been playing games since before written history.
Gaming is founded on things like points, levels, challenges and leader boards—in an effort to keep players playing the game by stimulating human behaviors such as reward, status, self-expression, and achievement.
The Smash Your Food app allows children to see and hear foods like a milkshake, or a burger, explode – as they “smash their food!” The game reveals how much sugar, salt and oil in 10 favorite foods (commonly abused by American children) that contribute to excessive calorie consumption and obesity. http://www.mybariatriclife.org/bad-eating-habits-that-cause-weight-gain/ It was a winner in Michelle Obama’s Apps for Healthy Kids Contest. Download Smash Your Food on iTunes for $2.99.
Educating Kids on Healthy Eating Using Games
Child obesity is a significant problem, with 32% of children overweight or obese in the U.S. and facing obesity-related illnesses like stroke. Prevention is key to combating child obesity and necessitates unique strategies that engage children and can be implemented widely.
The usual health curricular and behavior-change interventions targeted at children have had limited effectiveness. New channels are needed to reach children that offer promise for promoting substantial weight-related behavior changes. The novel approach of gaming to encourage healthy eating and activity holds strong hope for taming the childhood obesity epidemic.
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