Beginning on August 1, we embarked on an innovative partnership to talk to kids and their parents about nutrition in a fun, relatable way. We think that an important part of “empowering parents and caregivers with choices” is educating them about those choices. As part of this goal, we introduced the world of Fitwits into our restaurants. Fitwits is an obesity prevention and health literacy research project that uses games and character-driven narratives to transform unhealthy lifestyles into healthy ones.
We’re glad to welcome guest blogger, Kristin Hughes- Associate Professor of Design at Carnegie Mellon University - to tell you about how this program called Fitwits was created and how it made its way to Eat’n Park.
When it comes to educating families about nutrition, we face many challenges. Many children and families lack the knowledge base to make healthy dietary and activity choices. Environmental and social changes, physical inactivity, abundant energy-dense foods and beverages, and poorly understood health education conspire against healthy lifestyle choices. Physicians, parents/caretakers, teachers, community leaders and corporations like Eat’n Park can and should exert a leadership role to help in the fight against obesity. Small changes in people’s lifestyles, choices and habits can make a big difference.
Fitwits first took shape in the Fall of 2007 when a team of concerned Pittsburgh-based designers, doctors, teachers and parents had a conversation about the growing epidemic of childhood obesity and what we could do to help create change. As a team, we worked to developed methods that could help us to understand how people discuss and deal with issues surrounding their own health. We began to look at all facets of the problem in order to identify opportunities for change.
In our preliminary research, some of the most valuable lessons we learned came out of our sessions observing doctors talk to patients about their weight problems. Patients were handed a folder containing charts, contracts, and diagrams to assist them in their daily decisions regarding general nutrition. Unfortunately, the complex language of these materials inhibited their understanding, and thus adoption of the health recommendations, once they left the doctor’s office.
We also found that many misconceptions and lack of knowledge about nutrition came into play when we interviewed families. For example, one interviewed parent, when asked about the number of fruit servings her son has everyday, responded, “he eats cherry and strawberry Jell-O at least four times a day.” In both examples doctors and parents were trying to do good, but we learned that it isn’t always easy to make things that are easy to understand and fun to use.
We began to categorize our findings, which helped us to establish steps for moving forward. We designed games and activities that encouraged people to move physically, exposed them to nutritional concepts, and allowed them opportunities to express what they learned. In doing so, our Pittsburgh coalition framed a health conversation for children, families, schools, community leaders and physicians – “Fitwits.”
Fitwits’ partnership with Eat’n Park gives us the opportunity to relate this important information to families during a pivotal point in their day: mealtime. We’re proud to partner with Eat’n Park and look forward to hearing your feedback about Fitwits.
Stop by any Eat’n Park to pick up a character card and a complimentary game set, just by asking your server!