With child obesity rates rising, the U.S.'s biggest health maintenance organization on Tuesday launched an online video game to teach kids what to eat — and then shut down after 20 minutes.
Kaiser Permanente said "The Incredible Adventures of the Amazing Food Detective" was designed to teach 9- and 10-year-olds about healthy eating and exercise.
But rather than keep children in front of the computer for hours, the title aims to get kids moving. It has a function that locks players out after 20 minutes — and another that won't let them back in until for another 60 minutes.
"Kids in America spend too much time in front of the TV, and the messages they get there about eating, activity, and role models are all the wrong (ones)," said Ray Baxter, senior vice president for community benefit at Kaiser Permanente.
"Finger-wagging and telling kids to eat more green vegetables is not going to work. You've got to change the environment and change the message."
The game includes printable scavenger hunts that teach kids to make sense of food labels, experiments that show kids how to measure sugar in drinks, healthy recipes, muscle-building exercises and family activities to promote better eating.
The new game is part of Kaiser's campaign to combat childhood obesity, rates of which have tripled in the past 15 years.
Nearly 20 percent of children in the United States are now obese, fueling concerns about shorter life-expectancy and the soaring cost of caring for adults with diabetes and other obesity-related diseases.
The state of West Virginia, which has the worst childhood obesity problem in nation, helped pioneer the use of video games in the battle of the bulge when it made Konami Corp's "Dance Dance Revolution" dancing game part of the curriculum in public schools.
"Because obesity that begins in childhood is associated with more severe adult obesity, the effective prevention and treatment of childhood obesity is a critical strategy to control the rise in medical costs," said William Dietz, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expert on obesity and nutrition.
Over the past six years, Kaiser has partnered with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in developing an anti-obesity strategy.
Kaiser's game is available free of charge in English and Spanish versions at www.kp.org/amazingfooddetective and through the CDC's site at www.cdc.gov.
Kaiser and publisher Scholastic Inc also will distribute the game, along with teacher lesson plans and parent guides, to more than 5,000 public schools nationwide.