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Video Game May Improve Kids’ Eating Habits

By Marcia Wood
February 15, 2000

A fun, fast-paced video game called "Squire's Quest!" might entice kids to eat more fruits and vegetables, according to the scientists who are creating and testing it. Researchers at the Children's Nutrition Research Center in Houston, Texas, are trying out the action-packed computer game with 1,600 children in Houston elementary schools. The Nutrition Center is operated jointly by ARS, Baylor College of Medicine, and Texas Children's Hospital. ARS is the chief research agency of USDA.

Kids in the United States only eat about two to three-and-one-half servings of fruits and vegetables a day, instead of the five servings essential for optimal physical and mental growth and development, according to Tom Baranowski. A professor of behavioral nutrition at the research center and Baylor's Department of Pediatrics, Baranowski leads the team that is developing and testing the video game as part of an innovative new nutrition-education program.

Each child playing the video games starts as a squire and enters into training to become a knight. Knights help to protect an imaginary kingdom, called "Five-A-Lot," from invaders bent on destroying its fruits and vegetables. As squires earn points towards various levels of knighthood, they learn about fruits, 100-percent fruit juices, and veggies. The video game is part of a series of ten, 25-minute-long classroom sessions in which kids make tasty virtual recipes using fruits and veggies. Then they set personal goals for making those recipes at home, and for eating at least one more serving of a fruit or vegetable at a specific meal or snack.

Baranowski developed the video game and kid-friendly, behavior-change curriculum in collaboration with Baylor assistant professors Janice Baranowski and Karen Cullen, along with health educator Lauren Honess Morreale and freelance writer Brenda Congdon. The scientists expect to finish analyzing the results of their education experiment by the end of summer 2000.

Scientific contact: Tom Baranowski, ARS Children's Nutrition Research Center, Houston, Texas, phone (713) 798-6762, fax (713) 798-7098,