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Capitol Hill Gets A Taste of Health Games

Mike Musgrove

When Kaiser Permanente wanted to develop a program to teach kids about the value of proper nutrition and exercise, the health care company tried what an increasing number of companies are doing these days when they hope to get younger generations to pay attention: They turned the topic into a computer game.

"We wanted to reach kids where they are, which is on the computer," said Janet Venturino, vice president of marketing communications at the company.

Venturino was one of a handful of presenters today at a small pow-wow in the Rayburn House office building aimed at raising the awareness, among Capitol Hill staffers, of the growing number of health-related computer games.

By one count there are 600 such titles out there in use by consumers and students, and the Rayburn event gave visitors an idea of the range of available products: One Hill staffer broke into a sweat while jogging atop a Wii-connected dance pad while playing an exercise-themed game called "Outdoor Challenge." As you run and jump on the game mat, your onscreen character counterpart runs and jumps over obstacles based on your footsteps. Next to the Wii was an entirely different type of game, called Re-Mission, designed to help young cancer patients learn about the disease as they blast away at virtual cancer cells.

Kaiser Permanente's game product, The Incredible Adventures of the Amazing Food Detective presents kids with a series of mysteries, all solved by (spoiler alert!) the proper application of diet and exercise. About 230,000 kids have downloaded the game at home, or tried it out in a classroom, according to the company.

Interesting... but is this sort of thing entertainment or does it actually qualify as some sort of preventative health care? That's still a little fuzzy, observed Glenna Crooks, founder and president of Strategic Health Policy International Inc.

While she has seen some anecdotal evidence that exercise-related games are good at getting kids off the sofa, that's not quite good enough, if the world is going to take "health games" seriously, she said.

"A mom's endorsement of the Wii Fit for her 5-year-old son is not evidence," she said.

By Mike Musgrove  |  April 15, 2009; 3:04 PM ET  | Category:  Mike Musgrove
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