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Project of the Week: Apps for Healthy Kids

GovLoop Founder Steve Ressler was able to catch up with the incredible and ever-awesome Amanda Eamich, Director of New Media at USDA, to ask her a few questions about a sweet new contest that they are hosting in tandem with the White House. Check it out!

1. For those that don’t know…what’s the elevator pitch for Apps for Healthy Kids? What is it all about?

The competition was originally born from the Open Government rollout last December when our Center for Nutrition and Policy Promotion released a high-value nutrition dataset providing information on total calories, calories from “extras” like solid fats and added sugars, and MyPyramid food groups for over 1,000 commonly eaten foods.

With childhood obesity continuing to rise, the goal of the Apps for Healthy Kids challenge is to motivate the creation of innovative, fun, and engaging tools and games that encourage children – directly or through their parents – to make more nutritious food choices and to be more physically active.

2. You launched the program a few weeks back. What’s been the initial reaction?

The response has been amazing. On our Let’s Move Facebook page there has been really positive support and lots of people – young and old – are pledging their support on the competition Website.

Last week, a member of the OSTP team told us a story about his son who was motivated by a new game bundled with a pedometer for kids. The game encourages physical activity by unlocking new features the more he walks. Together, they wrote a letter to the First Lady acknowledging the importance of physical activity that can be stimulated through game play. The message is reaching people in tangible ways and they find both timely and inspiring. We are really excited to see the submissions from developers of all ages.

3. Often the hardest part is outreach for government initiatives. What steps are you taking to get the word out to companies and developers?

At last week’s 2010 Game Developers Conference, a letter from the First Lady recognized the importance of industry expertise. In the letter, she challenged attendees to dedicate their creative energy and skills to address one of our biggest challenges of combating childhood obesity and making healthy living fun, exciting and relevant.

In addition to the First Lady’s overwhelming support of the issue, Aneesh Chopra has been an outstanding advocate for these efforts. His office hosted a workshop in February to bring together members of the gaming and technology communities to help us determine how to make this challenge a success. Following the workshop we solicited feedback on OSTP, White House and USDA blogs and Twitter channels and we will continue to keep lines of communication open as people design their submissions for the competition.

4. I’m super-impressed with the judges. Steve Woz (co-founder of Apple), Mark Pincus (CEO of Zynga – one of largest social game companies). How did you connect with these people? And what was their reaction?

To say that we are thrilled to have such a highly esteemed judging panel is an understatement. It shows that there is an appetite (no pun intended) for innovation and helping solve critical issues in creative ways.

5. Length – The contest gives developers a little over 3 months to submit their apps. Any reason you picked that length of time? I’m personally really interested on how long to structure contests/dialogues in our ADD culture.

Three months will give developers time to design a game or app without forgetting about the challenge. Also, we really want to engage students in high school or higher learning institutions. It would be really exciting to see a class develop a game or app as part of their learning plan to earn credit in addition to making a positive impact on the health and well being of others.

6. For those on GovLoop interested in doing something similar at their federal agency, or state/local/international government….do you have any recommendations or best practices in getting started?

The OMB Guidance on Prizes and Challenges issued a day before our challenge launched is a great resource that will help other agencies to do something similar. Most importantly, get everyone involved: the issue experts can identify goals and needs, the technical team to determine what is possible and what may require additional development, communicators to spread the word and of course general counsel. When it comes to competitions, it is critical to ensure you have addressed concerns of privacy, intellectual property and other regulatory requirements.

Pick a goal that makes sense to your mission at can truly make an impact. Most importantly, get creative. We realize that as a government we may not have all the answers, so we’re relying on the creative and innovative spirit of the public.

7 – P.S. What’s your favorite healthy food?

As a kid I always ate my vegetables and loved most all of them. As an adult, I’m a big fan of leafy greens and tofu.

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Very cool. Can’t wait to see the results.

And while tofu is growing on me….I’m a big hummus and guacamole fan. Do they count?

Amanda Eamich

Thanks for the acknowledgment! Savi, they are one in the same. We solicited input from the community for the past few months to design the competition for success. I haven’t had flavored tofu but it’s always in my fridge as a healthier snack – will have to check it out next time!

We are very excited to have this opportunity with the First Lady’s team and to have the support of stellar judges. Hopefully some folks in the GovLoop community develop a game or app for the competition!

Andrew Krzmarzick

Another great project, Amanda! I’ll be sure to ping a couple developers I know to get them on the case.

Also, a quick idea – what if you could do a commercial for this contest during the new TV show “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution”? Seems to be hitting a solid target audience. Might also be interesting to reach out to university researchers – for instance, my wife worked with University of North Carolina’s Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention and they’re doing some pretty sweet stuff around kids’ nutrition….might have ideas to share with developers based on what works in real world, replicated/simulated in virtual.

My fav health food: anything with spinach and garlic.

Lisa Coates

Very interesting, since all this talk is staring about school age children’s health. I remember only having white or chocolate milk as a choice and no vending machines what so ever allowed in schools. I must say, children these days have way more choices than I ever did.

Marie Crandell

Hi there, this is a very exciting project and I hope it will gain lots of interest; (we are working on a project involving children and adults with heart health right now). Jamie Oliver’s TED talk is here http://mashable.com/2010/02/10/ted-prize-live/ and searchable on You Tube. We have the same issues of children’s diets here in the UK of course,and not just in schools. On a personal level, a couple years ago nurses quite rightly refused to release our then 2 yr old daughter after a 4 hr op unless she ate something. She refused all the hospital food (that’s my girl!). My husband popped out to a nearby Marks and Spencers store (has a great deli range) and bought some food. The surprised nurses laughed and released her after she chowed down on smoked salmon, raisins and mango. I think for any diet/health impact to be successful, not just for the kids but for the country’s health as a whole, allow the adults to get involved too, and healthly education and fun can then be a family-thing.
(We like fish, and lots of veggies colorful enough to make plate faces with:))