When was the last time you went to hear an expert speak on your topic of interest? JMU has always been great in providing a variety of speakers, but the yearly dietetics department one is my favorite. This year's topic was on the use of interactive media in changing diet and physical activity levels of kids.

We know childhood obesity is a problem. We know kids are obsessed with videogames (Although, fun fact, the average age of videogamers is 37. Surprise!), so it only seems natural to combine education with a crowd favorite. Our speaker, Tom Baranowski PhD, worked with USDA to produce a series of games to play on this idea.

The very first attempt was a 1995 game called Squire's Quest!, and as terrible (atrocious...check out that bad boy Mac-box below) as the graphics were, it met the goal of increasing the fruit and vegetable intake of the kids who played by 0.95 servings. Baranowski found that most of these F/V serving increases occurred during snack and lunch time when kids had the most choice control. Maybe we're just not giving kids enough credit!

So how to improve from the '95 edition?

  • Researchers found that gamers wanted characters they could relate to (humans instead of purple gecko people).
  • Make the game fun to increase intrinsic motivation, and therefore increase learning.
  • Both a study group of kids in Houston, TX and in rural NC wanted action games...and a love interest (aw!).
  • Use gamer input from a series of questions where information is entered, to focus the message throughout the game.

...And so, Escape from Diab was created.

Diab is more intense, and the story line centers around a group of misfit teens who rebel against the junk food king. One of the games within Diab was to correctly choose a healthy snack option against a junk food option, scoring 20 correct picks in under 3 minutes. It took the average player 7 tries to win, but in the long run, Diab increased fruit and vegetable servings by 1.0 per day.

So what do you think? Is there merit in using videogames for nutrition education?