U.S. researchers developing app to improve 'vegetable parenting'

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U.S. researchers developing app to improve 'vegetable parenting'

A United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) research center is developing a smart phone app designed to help parents get their preschoolers to eat more vegetables.

Photo: Archimage

The Agricultural Research Service's (ARS) Children's Nutrition Research Center (CNRC) in Houston has been developing the game "Kiddio: Food Fight!", which project lead Tom Baranowski says could be available in three years if funding for further development was available now.

"We need to find ways to provide education and training that people enjoy. This was our attempt to do that," he told www.freshfruitportal.com.

"We are simulating an interaction with a character approximating their child. This is based on several theories of behavior - our preliminary testing indicated parents enjoyed this."

The game involves the parent trying to get a child to eat a vegetable, selecting the child's (Kiddio's) gender and temperament, as well as a personal value and reason for their child to eat vegetables.

Photo: Archimage

The child doesn’t like the vegetable to begin with, and the player is offered a selection of vegetable parenting statements or manipulation of the environment such as turning off the TV, taking  toys off the table, using time out, closing the door or changing the vegetable plating.

The game development has been based on psychological studies of parenting practices relating to preschoolers' vegetable consumption, otherwise known as "vegetable parenting".

It forms part of an emerging genre of "serious games" designed to combine behavior change intervention procedures with entertainment, providing an engaging medium which can produce health behavior change.

"Each of the options is based on a parenting practice we've studied in our research. And Kiddio's responses to these options - whether to take a bit or say something like 'Yuk!' - are based on what we've learned so far about kids' reactions to these parental tactics."

Baranowski says the team is currently trying to get funding to develop 20 more episodes.

"We plan to make the episodes increasingly difficult, so players won't become bored or complacent. We hope parents will want to play each episode several times, and that they'll learn something new every time."

He says episodes will be limited to just a few minutes, which is convenient for "on-the-go" parents to play and learn in spare moments.


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