More kids are learning how to eat healthy thanks to Fitwits — a program created by Carnegie Mellon's School of Design and UPMC's St. Margaret Family Health Centers. Initially designed to get children talking about nutrition and exercise, a new leg of the program is getting parents in on the act.
Featuring the same fun characters such as Rita Rollup, Elvis Pretzley and Deep Dish Don, the new phase of Fitwits — known as Fitwits Zones — uses multiple strategies to help families on a daily basis make better health choices.
"Families living in lower socio-economic environments are at a higher risk for obesity-related complications later in life. Many do not have access to programs that address early preventative obesity and nutrition education," explained Fitwits co-creator Kristin Hughes, associate professor in Carnegie Mellon's School of Design. "By working closely with community members, we ensure a cultural fit and relevant messages of interest."
Fitwits Zone is an activity area created in schools and community centers to engage children, teachers, parents and families in conversations about healthy lifestyles. The plan is to activate it with a yearlong competition on five levels: individual, classroom, grades, school and families.
"We hope to motivate children, teachers and parents throughout the school year with challenges and activities. For example, children will receive a wristband with tokens added as the child meets each new challenge in an area of health education, nutrition, exercise or activities," Hughes said.
Classrooms compete with other classrooms on level of participation, as do grade levels within a school, keeping both teachers and children engaged and motivated. The schools compete based on student, family and class participation in the program while the implementation of health-related policies (i.e., exercise opportunities, food choices offered) keeps administrators motivated.
Participating families also receive Fitwits coupons for healthy food options and easy-to-make recipes. When they submit a store receipt that reflects a healthy choice, Fitwits cash accumulates in individual, family and school rewards and points.
"We are currently working with parents in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania. They have been charged with the design of a six week summer family fun camp called 'Get fit with the Fitwits," Hughes said. "It's been an amazing group to work with. There's been lots of storytelling, parents sharing their own personal experiences that moved them or inspired them to make healthier changes."
She added, "Now, we want to train them to go out and teach other parents about making healthier choices, to help bring more of the community into the dialogue. This experience will help us better understand how to design the larger game in the fall."