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Multimedia Game Helps Kids Eat Better

By Alfredo Flores
August 6, 2004

A computer game developed by behavioral nutrition researchers helps elementary school students consume more fruits and vegetables. The scientists are based at the Children's Nutrition Research Center (CNRC) in Houston, Texas. CNRC is operated by Baylor College of Medicine, in cooperation with Texas Children's Hospital and the Agricultural Research Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.

The game is called "Squire's Quest," and students who played it soon began eating an extra serving of fruit a day, according to Tom Baranowski, the study's lead scientist and a professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine.

In the game, the "Kingdom of 5ALot" is invaded by snakes and moles attempting to destroy the fruit and vegetable crops. The king and queen enlist the help of student "squires," who face challenges related to drinking more juices, and eating more fruits and vegetables. The squires gain points by preparing recipes in a virtual kitchen using these foods.

At the end of the session, the students set a goal of either making that recipe at home, eating another serving of fruit, juice or vegetable at a meal or snack, or asking for a favorite fruit, juice or vegetable to be more available at home. In the next session of the game, the student is rewarded with additional points if the goal was met.

The study involved 1,578 fourth-graders in the Houston Independent School District. They were divided into a participating group and a control group. Four days of dietary intake were assessed before and after the start of the 10-session game.

The computer game resulted in a one-serving increase in players' fruit and vegetable consumption in only five weeks, according to Baranowski. Other educational programs can take up to two years to achieve their goals.

People who consume more fruits, juices and vegetables have greater longevity and some level of protection from heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer.

The results of the study were published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Read more about the research in this month's issue of Agricultural Research magazine.