Professor Creates Video Game To Encourage Healthy Eating
An assistant professor in Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology has commenced research to investigate how virtual games can teach young children about healthy eating habits. The professor, Erika Poole, hopes that the unconventional strategy will help prevent childhood obesity.
“Games are a promising approach with kids, so we want to see if it’s effective in teaching them healthy habits early,” said Poole in a Penn State news article.
In addition to holding an academic position in IST, Poole is also a member of Penn State’s Center for Integrated Healthcare Delivery Systems. Previously, she has conducted research on the use of text message interventions for smokers and the concept of “exergaming” — video games that include a physical component — for adolescents.
To study the possible positive effects of gaming on kids’ perceptions of healthy eating, an actual game had to be created. That’s where Poole brought in Penn State research assistants and outside contractors to help bring the game to life. The end product was an iPad game, in which kids are faced with a variety of different situations about healthy eating. One of these situations, for example, requires the gamer to jump and grab healthy food items while avoiding junk food.
Though the game is fun, Poole and her research team hope that it will have unintended positive results.
“Kids don’t always understand long-term consequences in real life,” said Kathleen Keller, one of the nutrition assistant professors on the research team. “But succeeding or losing in a video game is something immediate they can understand. Eventually, those lessons can extend into real life.”
Since the game has already been tested in a lab, Poole hopes to move her research into the next stage. That involves having children ages seven to 11 play the iPad game several times a week at home. Poole hopes to understand if the game actually changes the kids’ interactions with food and healthy choices.