Apps for Healthy Kids gives them a game they can win

USDA enlists developers to produce games that promote healthy eating, exercise

Apps for Healthy Kids


Agency: Agriculture Department

Technology: Developers of software tools and games will use the USDA Nutrition Dataset to create fun and engaging apps and games to drive children to eat healthy foods and live more active lifestyles.

Apps for Healthy Kids challenged software developers, game designers, students and other innovators to create fun software tools and games that prompt children to eat healthier foods and be more physically active. 

The initiative is part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign to end childhood obesity in a generation. Applications can be any kind of software tool or game for the Web, PC, mobile handheld device, console or any software platform that is broadly available to the public.

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From March 10 to June 30, innovators submitted applications or games based on the USDA Nutrition Dataset found on the Agriculture Department's Web site and The data provides information on total calories, calories from “extras” — such as solid fats and added sugars — and MyPyramid food groups for more than 1,000 commonly eaten foods.

“So we have a high-value dataset which people can do something with and take action on,” said Amanda Eamich, USDA’s director of new media. Eamich presented Apps for Healthy Kids during the Innovation Showcase at a recent government Web managers conference in Washington, D.C.

Apps for healthy kids

The data would be great to have in the palm of your hand when you are grocery shopping or at a restaurant, Eamich said. USDA wants innovators “to develop games and apps that are relative to people’s lives,” Eamich said. The games will target tweens, children ages 9 to 12.

USDA has a strong advocate in the First Lady’s Office and support from the Education and Health and Human Services departments, Eamich said. USDA’s Office of Technology Policy has been helpful in connecting the agency with application developers and people in the game and entertainment industries.

In December 2009, the agency began soliciting feedback from experts for assistance in designing the parameter of the contest. That feedback suggested that three months would be just enough time to run a competition and not enough time for people to forget about it, Eamich said.

The agency wanted children to be among the innovators. “How great would it be for schools to develop a game as part of their curriculum?” Eamich asked. The agency also hoped that the June 30 deadline would give college students some extra time to develop apps and games after they finished final exams.

USDA already has an example of a game named MyPyramid Blast Off, which helps kids make decisions about healthy foods — get it right and they blast off. That’s a start but not the end, Eamich said.

“We want the competition to pull from the creative minds of the public [who will] tell us what works for their kids,” Eamich said.

“If it is in a different language: awesome. If it is a really simple 2-D game or app — that that is fine too,” Eamich noted. 

“Whatever works for the people is going to work for us,” Eamich said.

An internal USDA panel will screen all submissions, and the panel will select the top submissions based on potential effect, quality, creativity and other criteria. A group of 14 experts will judge the top submissions. That group includes Michael Barber, vice president of General Electric’s HealthyImagination Web site; Aneesh Chopra, federal chief technology officer; and Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple.

Judging by the panel and public voting began July 14 and continues through Aug. 14, when the submissions will be on display on the Apps for Healthy Kids Web site. There is more than $64,000 in prizes awaiting the winners, who have a chance to be honored at the White House for their innovative applications and ideas.


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