Tahir Whitehead avatar helps kids get healthy

Tahir Whitehead avatar helps kids get healthy

Getting a kid to make healthy choices can be like pulling teeth, but making it part of a game can turn them on the right habits.

The game, called Tahir’s Playbook, is both computer and mobile device based and uses an idea called gamification, where education is pushed through fun activities, to get kids interested in the subject. It gets its name from professional football player Tahir Whitehead, who appears as an avatar of himself in the game to help coach the kids.

Tahir Whitehead speaks to students at the Healthy Eating and Fitness Demonstration at Bagley Elementary School in Detroit. File photo by TIm Galloway

The students will learn about healthy eating, drinking, and exercise habits by way of an avatar of themselves that they create. They earn in-game achievements and rewards while being coached and mentored by Tahir Whitehead’s avatar. They can also participate in a series of mini-games to level up their fitness and prepare for the weekly “Big Game.”

At the end of each week, the students collaborate with their team in the “Big Game” while competing against the opposing team. The team with the most energy wins.

“This is a really fun and positive approach to teaching students healthy habits,” says Nick Lyon, director of Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). “We’ve teamed up with some great partners to try and change behaviors through game elements that address the nutrition, education and physical fitness challenges which many families face.”

The kids can compete both alone and as groups against other schools. Teachers and administrators create avatars and play themselves. Once the pilot is done, the winners will get a chance to meet Tahir Whitehead in person.

In addition to the game, Michigan State University Extensions will provide free nutrition education classes on healthy cooking, food budgeting and reading food labels to parents and guardians of the students at the school. Those who take part will earn points for their kids. It’s a six-week curriculum course called “Show Me Nutrition.”

MDHHS Pathways Success Coaches assisted in piloting the program. They helped gather parental informed consent and active student assent forms, handed out the usernames and passwords to the students, showed the students how the app works and helped with nutrition surveys.

The game is free-to-play with no in-app purchases. It can be downloaded on personal smart devices such as iPhones, iPads or Android devices and there is also a web-based portal students can use to play.

The app was funded by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education grant. Whitehead volunteered his time to record voice-overs for the game.




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