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Feb. 7: Carnegie Mellon Design Professor Creates Educational Games To Teach Families How To Live Healthy Lives


Eric Sloss                           

Carnegie Mellon Design Professor Creates Educational
Games To Teach Families How To Live Healthy Lives

Program is a Collaboration Among Carnegie Mellon, UPMC, Pittsburgh Public Schools and Businesses

PITTSBURGH — Kristin Hughes, associate professor in Carnegie Mellon University's School of Design, is partnering with Dr. Ann McGaffey at UPMC St. Margaret Family Health Centers and several Pittsburgh Public Schools to teach children and families how to have healthy lifestyles in an educational and entertaining way. Hughes received a $195,000 grant from The Heinz Endowments to create Fitwits, a three-part series of learning games that will be implemented in schools and hospitals.

fitwits"The Fitwits program is a grassroots effort allowing teachers, after-school specialists and doctors to augment existing curricula with more comprehensive health information related to nutrition and physical activity," Hughes said.

The team includes McGaffey, doctors Susan Fidler and Meg Gibson and other designers and health educators. The Fitwits program is a series of learning games imbedded with positive, educational health content regarding nutrition and physical activity for pre-adolescents. There are three main subsets of the Fitwits program: Games for Health - classroom games; Doctor's Spaces - games that children can play in waiting rooms and patient care rooms; and Fitwits Healthperks!(r) - a community-based game with local businesses that reward consumers for healthy choices.

The design of each program component enables families to make meaningful changes to improve their health and the health of those around them through play. Fitwits will be available in March, at which time it will be tested in the Pittsburgh Public Schools.

"The games recognize healthy and unhealthy ingredients in foods and stress the importance of kid-appropriate portion sizes and amounts, which enables children to feel a sense of control no matter what meal they are provided with at home or in school," Hughes said. "It is also designed to help facilitate conversations about health and health-related topics."

The classroom component of Fitwits helps teachers and students learn the vocabulary of health. Students can play five memory, matching and trivia games that teach students about proper portion sizes and vocabulary. Hughes is working on recess and gym games that get students to exercise. Also, she is creating materials that explain the Pittsburgh Public School's Wellness Policy to parents and students based on a policy from the Centers for Disease Control's Coordinated School Health Program that stresses education and parent involvement.

Hughes has also developed a series of games for children to play while waiting in doctors' offices. Along with UPMC St. Margaret Family Practice residents, she is developing flash cards to teach parents how to keep their children healthy. The flash cards are aimed toward first-time parents, teenage parents and other parents to facilitate open discussions. Doctors can then use these games, flash cards and other materials to facilitate a conversation about health with their patients. Patients can also take the games home with them.

Hughes is collaborating with area businesses on the Fitwits Healthperks!(r) series. These games will reward consumers who choose healthy food alternatives with cash discounts and coupon incentives