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Innovations for Healthy Kids Game Challenge: Help Design for Success

Janey Thornton from the Department of Agriculture talks about the department's recently launched contest for the development of creative games to help kids make healthy food choices.

Cross-posted from the Office of Science and Technology Policy's OSTP blog

Last week, as part of the Open Government Initiative, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the Department of Agriculture (USDA) would launch the Innovations for Healthy Kids Game Challenge, a national contest for the development of creative nutrition games that motivate kids to make healthy food choices. In the spirit of openness, we want to engage all of you in designing the Challenge for success.

The Innovations for Healthy Kids Challenge hopes to harness the creativity and ingenuity of the American people to promote the growth and healthy development of our youth. Last week, we made available for download nutrition data for 1,000 commonly consumed food items in standard portion sizes. Like Apps for America and NYC Big Apps, we are now inviting entrepreneurs, software developers, students, and the public to compete to use the USDA data to develop the best mobile and web-based games that teach youth how to build healthy dietary patterns.  For example, USDA used this nutrition data to develop MyPyramid Blast Off Game in 2006.  By challenging kids to fuel their rocket to reach Planet Power, the game helps children identify the foods that can best fuel their own bodies.  We know that this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the power of digital games to help children learn and develop healthy eating habits.

Given the immense potential, we are looking to you to help us design the contest to elicit the very best nutrition games from developers across the country. In particular, there are four questions where we would greatly appreciate your feedback between now and January 6, 2010. 

  1. Target Audience. The Challenge will have a special focus on tweens, an age-group where there is great potential for creative nutrition games to have a high-impact. Members of this age group are still defining sense of self, including health behaviors, and at the same time are beginning to comprehend how their actions may have an impact later in life. In addition, digital technology is already highly-integrated into tweens’ lives.  Finally, from a nutrition-messaging standpoint, dietary recommendations are the most consistent for 9-12 year olds, thereby providing clear guidance for game developers. Beyond tweens, are there other age-groups to which the contest should direct attention?
  2. Timeline. How long should the contest be? Three months? One year? What timeline is reasonable to develop a meaningful educational game that is attractive, engaging, and effective for children? How might the timeline impact who participates (e.g. professional developers versus graduate students)?
  3. Criteria for Success. We care about moving the needle on child nutrition. In order to achieve this goal, what technical parameters should be established to ensure broad access to the final product? By what metrics should submissions be judged? And who should decide?
  4. Outreach. We hope to encourage up-and-coming gamers or developers to participate in the challenge.  What are the best ways to reach and inspire college and graduate students on and off campus?

You can share your ideas and thoughts on the OSTP blog.  Please begin your comment by indicating the question to which you are responding. We encourage you to provide empirical data or specific examples in support of your recommendations.  We will keep you informed on the Challenge development as we receive your feedback and insights.

Many of us learn best through hands-on, engaging activities that make lessons less tedious and more exciting.  Improving the health of our nation’s youth is an effort we can all sink our teeth in to.  Your input will help us design the most effective game to spark the interest of children and, ultimately, improve the lives of Americans.

We look forward to hearing from you at the OSTP blog.

Janey Thornton is Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services in the Department of Agriculture