I have to tell you that when I heard of this online game designed to teach kids about obesity, I thought it seemed a bit counterintuitive. Nevertheless, if getting more exercise, eating better, and doing something other than just playing video games are topics that you'd like to discuss with your kids ages 5 to 9, then you may want to introduce them to The Incredible Adventures of the Amazing Food Detective. It'll get the discussion started in an upbeat way. The site is FREE, is available online in English and Spanish, and is a project of Kaiser Permanente, a health maintenance organization. It's part of their ongoing efforts to address the epidemic of childhood obesity.
For kids of this generation, who've hardly ever seen any black-and-white media, the stereotyped office of the Amazing Food Detective (right out of a scene from the Maltese Falcon) may seem kind of hip. The detective addresses kids as she sits at her desk, dressed in a trench coat, and waiting for a call on her oversized rotary phone. After a quick explanation of what the kids are there for, she sends them off to meet a group of eight children from diverse cultural backgrounds, each representing a different mystery.
In one mystery, for example, it seems that Catherine doesn't get enough protein and isn't as strong as she should be. It's young detective's job to direct her how to combine foods like meat sauce and pasta, peanut butter and bread, and chicken with vegetables so her diet is more balanced and that she gets the protein that she needs. Another case involves Michael, who we meet sprawled on the couch snacking and watching tv. The solution for kids is to click on various objects in the room until they find the one that will inspire Michael to get up and get moving. In this case, it's a soccer jersey.
The reward for solving each mystery is the opportunity to play three of the arcade mini-games (there are 24 total) that emphasize the same theme as the mystery just solved. In Catherine's case, one such game is moving around a maze and getting points for eating high protein foods before some purple blobs can catch up with the player and knock them out. The mini-games are pretty conventional stuff, but kids will find them enjoyable and relatively quick to play.
To all of this, there is a clever twist. In order not to become part of the problem they are trying to solve, the programmers at Kaiser Permanente added a catch. Unlike other video games, this one shuts off after 20 minutes and tells kids to go do something active and come back, and won't let them back on the game for 60 minutes. That can trigger some interesting discussion with your kids about diet and exercise too, so don't tell them the secret ahead of time and let them react to the all aspects of the game.
Besides the mysteries to be solved and the mini-games, there are also links to materials and activities that can be enjoyed offline including recipes, Internet Scavenger hunts, experiments, exercises, and more. The message of this game comes through loud and clear in all aspects of what's offered.
While I expect most kids will breeze though the mysteries and games on this site, it is a great way to gently move kids towards a discussion of healthy eating and exercise. A good tool for parents and teachers alike, and best of all, it's free!