Apps for Healthy Kids

Published Jun-06-11

Crowdsourcing initiative to combat the obesity epidemic and get young America on its feet.

United States Department of Agriculture, United States

The Story:

Apps for Healthy Kids Crowdsourcing has been deployed in the nationwide US fight against obesity. To get children off their sofas and to exercise more the First Lady Michelle Obama launched an open innovation competition as part of her Let’s Move! initiative aimed at game designers, software developers and students. They were challenged to come up with healthy, motivational and fun apps for children and competed for a prize pot of $60,000.

Obesity is one of western society’s most pressing health concerns and threatens the health of one third of American children. It’s also a drain on the public purse with $150 billion being spent every year in the US to treat obesity-related conditions. And the numbers do not appear to be going down anytime soon. So serious is the obesity epidemic that today’s generation of American children may face a shorter lifespan than their parents.

Creative approaches are needed to tackle these problems and that’s where open innovation and the wisdom of the crowd can come in. The value of such initiatives is that they attract diverse viewpoints and ideas from a community of people (those who have signed up to take part in a competition).

Apps to Promote Health

The contest was sponsored by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and participants were encouraged to devise and develop games using the USDA nutrition data set. It was made available to the public through the Open Government Initiative and contains information on calories and food groups for over 1,000 commonly eaten foods. From these, designers and developers were encouraged to create tools and games to deliver nutrition and health concepts in fun and engaging ways. The overarching aim was to instill lifelong healthy eating habits in children without preaching to or patronizing them.

The competition website attracted more than 50,000 supporters and nearly 100 entries were submitted. Eleven winning applications were selected by the panel of judges which included such industry luminaries as Apple Computer Co-Founder Steve Wozniak, and Mike Gallagher, President and CEO of the Entertainment Software Association.

Competition Winners

The Grand Prize and $10,000 check was awarded to students from the University of Southern California. Their innovation was a game called ‘Trainer’ that challenges users to strengthen a cartoon creature by training alongside it in the real world as tracked by interactive webcam technology.

Other prize winners included ‘Tony's Plate Calculator’ designed by a husband and wife team from Dayton Ohio. They initially created the food calculator for their diabetic son and then turned it into a free online tool for anyone who wants to know more about the nutritional content of the food they eat.

“This competition allowed us to harness the combined creativity of game developers, local youth and adults to work collaboratively to produce fun, innovative games and tools that promote healthy lifestyles,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The competition also inspired a series of games jams with students across the country sharing ideas and testing prototypes.

Intellectual Property Rights

The designers of each app, tool and game kept their intellectual property rights, although the USDA has the rights to use and distribute the apps to the public free of charge for one year after the winners were announced.

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