Riverside Kids Help Design Healthy Eating Computer Game

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Riverside Kids Help Design Healthy Eating Computer Game

via pe.com 

“How many vegetables can you name?” Mike Axinn, creator and executive producer of the nonprofit Doof (that’s food spelled backwards), asked a group of students in Bordwell Park’s after school program.

Six hands shot up in the air — half the group.

A while later, Axinn asked, “How many types of candy can you name?”

Twelve hands shot up in the air — the entire group.

Axinn, along with Doof’s Education and Partnership Director Lauren Hopfenbeck and Chef Gino, met with about twenty children in late January in order to gain feedback from California kids about their latest project — Planet Doof. Funded through the California Endowment, Planet Doof is a computer game that educates kids about healthy eating, gardening and much more by turning them into the teachers. In the game, children must teach Doofians or extraterrestrials about food here on earth.

Through a partnership with Riverside Community Health Foundation and the City of Riverside Parks, Recreation, and Community Services Department, Axinn and his colleagues conducted two focus groups with children from Bordwell Park’s after-school program in order to gain children’s perspective on healthy eating, computer games, and how the two might come together. Children were asked which extraterrestrial designs created for the game they liked the most and least, which visual design they favored and what sort of computer games they played at home. Kids were even asked to draw their own extraterrestrials.

There was also a lot of talk about food — what sort of foods did kids like, what did they cook at home with their parents, what TV food commercials did they think were funny, and, of course, how many fruits and vegetables could they name. The children’s answers were filmed, and can be seen in a promotional video for Planet Doof that was released in February on the group’s YouTube Channel.

“The kids are helping us understand the kinds of media they like and how TV commercials convince them that junky snacks and unhealthy breakfast options are cooler than the healthy foods we would like them to choose,” Axinn said about why they held the focus groups.

Axinn, like many of us, would like to see children have the same knowledge and enthusiasm for fruits and vegetables as they do for soda and sweets. But, Axinn, a Hollywood audio professional and video producer, understands that fruits and vegetables don’t have the same star power as cereals, candies, and other junk food. The Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity reports that the average U.S. child see about 91 commercials for food every week and on average only one of these commercials is for healthy foods or bottled water. Axinn and his team are working to change this imbalance, by creating exciting new media for kids about healthy food.

“Doof is all about using media for good,” said Axinn. The group’s website, foodbackwards.com, states that its mission is to, “provide a highly entertaining multimedia alternative to fast food advertising to promote healthy food and help school children make better food choices.”

“Doof’s work meets kids where they are at,” said Ninfa Delgado, Vice President of Riverside Community Health Foundation, who made the initial contact with Doof. “We’re excited about how this game may be able to help motivate children to make healthy choices and combat childhood obesity.”

Doof plans to continue working with the children from the Bordwell Park after-school program as they further develop the game. Planet Doof is set to be released in the Spring of 2013. Doof is building a network of schools and organizations to distribute the game to over 200,000 kids in California for free.

To find out more about Doof and how to participate, contact lauren@foodbackwards.com or visit foodbackwards.com.