Couple’s online food game wins White House approval

Aaron Coleman and Jesica Oratowski-Coleman (holding items) pose with White House Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Photo: Courtesy

By Emily DeRuy
Contributor

A game created by locals Aaron Coleman and Jesica Oratowski-Coleman recently won the Popular Vote in the Apps for Healthy Kids Challenge, a nationwide competition sponsored by First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign.

The husband-wife team, who work for the UCSD division of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, aka Calit2, developed “Food Buster.” The online game aims to teach children how to select healthy foods by asking players to choose foods without breaking a virtual scale. Set up as a game show experience, it teaches children about everything from calories and saturated fat, to sugar and exercise quantities.

Aaron, a web developer and computer programmer, and Jesica, a health educator, work in research studies. Although neither works specifically with children, Jesica worked on a teen study geared toward teaching young people how to understand food choices, and both have research and technology backgrounds. Not paid to develop the game, the couple created the app on their own time, outside their work for Calit2. However, the institute is looking into using the technology as a tool for weight-loss.

“We did it for fun,” said Aaron. “The game turns complex, number-driven science into a fun activity.” Added Jesica, “It provides an easy visual, where kids can say, ‘OK, if I pick French fries over an apple, this is what happens.”

In late September, the duo traveled to Washington, D.C., where they had the opportunity to meet with White House officials, including Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra. Chopra and Sebelius emphasized the severity of the childhood obesity issue, saying the problem spanned multiple departments. White House officials used the contest as a model, and last month, they launched www.challenge.gov as a way to harness the innovation of the American people. The site allows citizens to compete for prizes by offering fresh solutions to a host of national problems.

“They selected 95 finalists, and it was fun to see the other apps, how people thought to do the challenge,” Aaron said.

The couple received $4,500 in prize money, and they plan to divide their earnings between the San Diego Victory Gardens and Long Beach’s Centro Shalom. The former will fund an outdoor education planter box to educate visitors about food origins and growing food, while the latter will distribute local and organic produce to low-income families.

Aaron and Jesica plan to continue developing new versions of Food Buster. Currently, a free version is available online at www.foodbustergame.com, but an iPad version is in development, and will be available on the iTunes store for purchase. It will include new characters, bonus lessons, and more detailed explanations of foods. A bonus round will encourage children to get up from the computer and move around. Chief Technology Officer Chopra had a chance to test out the new prototype version at the White House, a moment Aaron particularly enjoyed.

“It was really fun to have the White House Chief T.O. playing around on that,” he said.

Police offer kids Internet classes

The San Diego Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and the San Diego Police Foundation have collaborated on a public education campaign to fulfill a federal mandate. The following four programs are available at no cost by calling Darlene Kanzler, San Diego Police Foundation, (858) 453-5060.

Classroom lessons with training for teachers or directly to students with all necessary materials.

    Middle school student assemblies.
    Parent/Child workshops where kids and parents come and learn together..
    Community presentations led by San Diego Law Enforcement for audiences of audiences of 150 or more

Want to know more?
www.foodbustergame.com
www.challenge.gov

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Posted by Halie Johnson on Oct 15, 2010. Filed under Featured Story, La Jolla, News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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