Tackling obesity in children one game at a time
AZTI’s Comocomoyo website seeks to promote healthier eating in children through the use of educational tools and interactive games.
Childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century. Overweight and obese children are likely to develop noncommunicable diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases at a younger age. Promoting healthy eating habits in childhood is key to encouraging a healthier lifestyle in the future, therefore preventing the risk of chronic illnesses as adults.
Helping children and their families understand the need for good healthy habits, like which foods will make them grow up healthy and strong and which foods can be eaten “only once in a while”, is key to promoting healthy eating. At the same time, it is also important to approach this topic with children by utilising fun activities, as well as using their own language. Playing is a good way for children to learn and internalise knowledge.
The Comocomoyo website
To this end, AZTI has developed a website available in two languages, that offers several educational and gamification tools aimed at children. Using these kinds of tools together not only provides knowledge about healthy eating habits, but can also detect potential cases of neophobia (the fear of trying new foods), as well as improve knowledge of tastes, preferences and eating habits. The different materials provided help to change children’s attitude towards food once certain knowledge has been acquired. These changes can be also detected through this tool.
The most traditional educational information can be found in two different sections.
On one hand, the ‘Healthy Eating’ section explains some basic concepts, such as what it means to eat healthy or the importance of establishing healthy habits from childhood. It also describes in detail each of the food groups, as well as the number of recommended servings and intake frequencies for the whole family.
On the other hand, the ‘Documentation’ section offers a series of information panels and brochures, aimed at both children and adults. The panels, nine in total, clearly and easily present the basic concepts for a healthy diet, and include specific information on each of the main food groups (fruits and vegetables, meat and fish, milk and dairy products, eggs, cereals and potatoes, legumes, healthy fats). In addition, the section outlines the foods that must only be consumed from time to time.
In this same section, families will also find a brochure with summarised information regarding the recommendations for daily or weekly intakes of the different food groups and examples of servings, as well as habits that should be promoted or reduced.
The website also offers the possibility of watching various recipes for balanced dinners, which can be prepared as a family. In addition to the traditional information about ingredients and cooking specifications, these recipes offer extra helpful information, such as age-recommended serving sizes or the nutritional importance of the main ingredients. This information is intended to help families complement dinner with the intake of other meals, such as the children’s lunch at school. Thus, children achieve a varied and balanced diet. Involving children in the choice and preparation of meals is a key strategy to reduce their reluctance to try new foods and to reinforce healthy habits.
Regarding gamification, the website offers two different games for children aged six to 12 years old.
The Como Quiz asks 20 questions about eating and healthy habits which must be answered appropriately to finish the game. The questions, randomised among more than 100, pose various options in terms of food groups, nutrients, intakes, food health properties, lifestyle habits, hydration or physical activity.
Through the ¿Cómo como yo? (How do I eat?) test, children can find out if they currently eat healthily or not. The game asks questions to evaluate preferences and perceptions of certain foods, the time of day when they are eaten, as well as their intake frequency, and their predisposition to try new things. At the end of the game and depending on the answers, participants get different tips regarding nutritional recommendations
This tool has been designed under the ‘covert survey’ approach, so it can be useful to obtain valuable information for the food industry, aiding the possible development or launch of food products for children. Both photos and text are editable, giving the option to configure the game to ask different questions according to specific needs, such as preferences for flavours, textures, colours, specific foods, packaging, etc.
In short, the website not only constitutes an educational knowledge base to improve children’s’ eating habits, but also a practical element which will further the development of specific products according to their nutritional and consumption needs.
About the authors
Ana Baranda has a PhD in Sciences, with a mention in Analytical Chemistry, and is a researcher at AZTI in the New Food department. Her research is largely centered around consumer behaviour.
Elena Santa Cruz is a sociologist, expert researcher in consumer behaviour and preferences, as well as a member of AZTI’s New Food department team that leads the EIT FOOD School Network project. She is involved in other European research to involve consumers in healthier and more sustainable product development.