When it comes to fighting childhood obesity, there’s no substitute for playing in the fresh air, but a team of five led by an engineering student from Northwestern is betting that their smartphone game can get kids in the habit of eating healthy. The app, called JiveHealth, is one of 10 semifinalists in the End Childhood Obesity Innovation Challenge, hosted by the Partnership for a Healthier America – and the only technology-based entry.
The competition weighs childhood obesity-challenging options from around the country and is run by a coalition of American private, public and non-profit leaders. The top three entrepreneurs will present their ideas March 6 to 8, 2013, at the Building a Healthier Future Summit in Washington, D.C., whose attendees include the likes of First Lady Michelle Obama and over 1,000 business, policy and health leaders.
Interestingly, the top three will be decided by a public vote. To participate, visit the Partnership for a Healthier America on Facebook and cast a vote for your favorite idea. Voting closes February 1, 2013.
JiveHealth works the way most role-playing games do: Players progress through levels, challenging opponents of increasing size and strength. With each new level, the player’s own character needs to be upgraded. JiveHealth sends kids on real-world missions to hunt down healthy, tasty foods, which, when successfully completed, allows kids to boost their characters.
Dennis Ai, the founder, programmer, and product manager, says childhood obesity is a problem that’s important to him socially and personally. “By the time I was in the 4th grade, I was the fattest kid in my class. I was called fat to my face, picked last for sports teams, and I remember parents whispering about it behind my back. I know how it feels, and it hurts.” According to him, weight maintenance is much easier than weight loss, which is why engaging kids early with games is a winning strategy.
Last summer, between working for startups and playing eight hours of video cames a day, Ai realized the gaming platform was the perfect way to reach kids. Drawing on his experiences, he set out to build an app that would encourage kids to eat well. Now, he sees presenting at the Summit as the next step in moving closer to funding.
Asked what JiveHealth would gain from presenting at the Summit, Ai says, “Establishing partnerships with health insurers, employers, and food companies, [as well as] National PR from winning the competition, and general awareness to help raise a first round of funding.” Sure, but if they win, they’ll also get $10,000 and advice from finance, business and marketing executives.
To help JiveHealth make it to the top three, vote for them by visiting this Facebook page. Voting closes February 1.
Concept art courtesy by Hailey Schmidt, one of two Tribeca Flashpoint Academy students on the JiveHealth team, courtesy of Dennis Ai.