Can video games be healthy?

June 22, 2009 12:38:29 PM PDT
Health experts across the nation are searching for ways to help stop the childhood obesity epidemic, from getting healthier food choices into school cafeterias to encouraging kids to get off the couch. Now experts are taking a modern approach by combining video games and nutrition. One in every three kids is overweight or likely to be overweight. That's the finding of a Harvard study. It's such a health problem that companies are looking for new ways to help. Here's what a Houston company came up with: a computer game.

"Kids like computers. They like new technology. So it seemed like an obvious to us that computer games are a way to reach kids for just about anything you want to," said Jerald Reichstein, President of playnormous.com.

Playnormous.com is an online site for children and their parents to play games that teach kids to make healthy food choices. Also, they learn the importance of exercise. It was created by Archimage, a Houston company that's leading the way in the fast-growing health care gaming industry.

The games on playnormous.com are free. All you need is a computer. The object of one game called Lunch Crunch is to grab as many healthy foods choices as you can and place them on your food tray.

"I also learned that there's lots and lots of good foods and lots and lots of bad foods. And you should try to choose the good foods most of the time," said student Sahil Patel.

The game Bubble Trouble encourages exercise.

"I didn't know that walking could actually do much for you, but the game showed me that if you just go out and walk, rather than sit on the couch all day, you actually do a little bit," said student Adam Reichstein.

Playnormous.com Marketing Director Melanie Lazarus said, "We're really trying to change behavior in kids. We're not just trying to teach them about health."

The games were designed with the help of doctors from Baylor and the University of Texas Health Science Center. Some are already being used in schools.

"We want the kids to have fun. If they have fun, they'll play the games longer. If they do that, we hope they'll eat better, they'll exercise more, and become healthier," said Jerald Reichstein.

As they play Lunch Crunch, maybe what they learn will stay with them when they hit the lunchroom for real.

There are seven games on the free playnormous.com website here. The company said it's working on more games, including one on portion sizes.

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Christi Myers is ABC13's Healthcheck reporter

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