Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Let's Move! The Game: First Lady Announces $40 K in Prizes for "Apps For Healthy Kids" Contest

Playing with your food...
Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple, has joined First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign as one of the judges for the Apps For Healthy Kids Competition. The USDA-sponsored contest, open to all, is seeking software developers, game designers, and any other kind of computing genius to develop creative and fun electronic games and tools that both encourage healthy eating and promote physical activity. Mrs. Obama announced the competition during her keynote address to the National PTA Legislative Conference today.

"Maybe you’ve seen those dance video games or those exercise games that families are playing together at home, or the ones that kids play using their mobile phones and home computers," Mrs. Obama said, when speaking to the 350 PTA officials. "Those are the kinds of games that we’re talking about."

Mrs. Obama has spent much time in the last month lamenting the amount of time kids spend in front of "passive" screens--computers, TVs, cell phones--as one of the many causes of child obesity. She frequently goes on the record that daughters Malia and Sasha watch TV only on weekends. She even rewards the girls for doing things other than spending time in front of screens: The girls are allowed to stay up a half hour after their bedtimes, as long as they're reading (Mrs. Obama announced this last week, during the Read Across America event). So the First Lady sponsoring a contest that now encourages e-game time in front of screens might seem a bit odd, but Mrs. Obama had an excuse for this intellectual disconnect for her PTA audience.

"Now, we know our kids spend way too much time with these games. And we know we're going to have to fix that. But we also know that that's not going to happen overnight," Mrs. Obama said. "So we might as well try to use some of that time to our advantage."

The First Lady hopes the contest will also result in new Apps that can be used when shopping, ordering at restaurants, and cooking at home, so people have rapid access to nutrition information when trying to make healthier choices about food. (Above: Mrs. Obama speaking today to the nation's PTA leaders, at the Doubletree Hotel in Arlington, Virginia)

The honey pot for the contest: $40,000 in prizes will be awarded for winning designs, with two grand prizes of $10,000 each, one for best tool, and one for best game. The applications can be any kind of software tool or game, for the web, a personal computer, a mobile handheld device, console, or any software platform broadly available to the public. The challenge has a caveat: The winning design must incorporate information from the dataset for MyPyramid, USDA's new online tool that lists nutrition and calorie info for 1,000 foods.

The competition is a collaboration between the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and USDA's Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, and it's been in the works for a while. In addition to the winners selected by the panel of judges, there will also be a Popular Choice award, which will go to the winning entry with the most public votes. Along with Wozniak, judges include Aneesh Chopra, U.S. Chief Technology Officer, White House Office of Science & Technology Policy; Mark Pincus, CEO, Zynga Game Network, Inc.; Mike Gallagher, President and CEO, Entertainment Software Association; Mark Pincus, CEO, Zynga Game Network; Eric Johnston, Senior Software Engineer, LucasArts; Michael Levine, Executive Director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop; and David Lazarus, who is one of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's Senior Advisers.

The woman judge on the panel is...er, there isn't one. It's a curious oversight for a whole host of reasons. Women make most of the food purchasing decisions for families, according to recent studies, as well as purchases of things like Apps and video games. And, too, the White House has been encouraging achievement in math and science for girls, as part of the ambitious education plan to make America super competitive in the 21st century...so why not have a high-profile tech industry woman on the panel?

The competition is now open, and closes on June 20, 2010. For more information on the competition, including registration, rules, and details on what kind of projects are eligible, go to www.AppsForHealthyKids.com/. The MyPyramid dataset recently went online as part of the Government Transparency Project; it's available at www.data.gov/details/1294. For more information on Let's Move!, visit the official website: www.letsmove.gov/.

*Photo by Obama Foodorama