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Interactive Food Playground

Uniting and educating the local community using outdoor play areas, reversing the psychological effects of junk-food marketing towards kids.

Photo of Chris O'Connell
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Who is the target audience for your idea and how does it inspire the end user to lead a healthier life?

The target audience for our idea is urban or suburban families with kids aged 6-12. Since our brains are so malleable at a young age, media for brands like Coca-cola, McDonalds, Cheetos, and other junk food seems to penetrate kids' heads and they tend to trust those brands. Kids tend to learn better through physical involvement than through staring at screens. Playgrounds are for the whole family. While watching their kids, parents are bound to learn something as well!


After doing a lot of statistical data analysis and ethnographic research, we realized that the obesity crisis in America is not the fault of the consumer. We've been brainwashed to trust certain food brands and beverages that claim to be safe. What the average consumer doesn't know is that one 20oz bottle of their favorite soft drink contains more sugar than the American Heart Association recommends as a daily amount.

Originally, we thought the proper solution could be a smartphone app or a piece of wearable technology. But after talking with a Hispanic family with a young daughter, we learned that an app wouldn't have enough impact to really make a difference. Technology can only solve problems like this if people are willing to adopt them. There are already so many apps and wearables in the market that anything new probably won’t get to the heart of the issue.

We wanted to focus on an area in which the whole family could be engaged. The solution is NOT to keep kids in front of screens. It’s to get kids involved in learning about food. That’s where the idea for an interactive food playground was born.

Drawing inspiration from play areas that are educational and interactive (the Cosi science center in Columbus is a good example), we came up with two ideas for a playground.

Concept 1:

When picking foods at stores, kids often convince their parents to buy the foods with colorful fun labels (which tend to be high in sugar content and low in other nutrients). Concept 1 is a playground that has play areas that correlate to the Nutrition Facts on food packaging. The goal is to increase kids’ understanding of what those labels mean and increase their ability to choose healthy products based on Nutrition Facts alone. Examples:

-Fiber Climb (two adjacent ladders with models of food products that increase as you climb higher)

-Sugar Crash (stairs that have models of food products that increase in sugar content as you climb. A slide at the top represents the loss of energy after a sugar crash).

There could also be interactive displays that show how eating certain foods every day will affect your body after a year.

Concept 2:

Kids tend to learn through role-playing. If we built a park with a path in the shape of the human digestive system, interactive games could be played on it that give kids roles as organs or nutrients. The kid who is “sugar” goes to the kid who is “pancreas” and whoever plays “insulin” is released, etc. There could possibly be an app or wearable that goes along with the game. When the game is not being played, it becomes a normal path.

What early, lightweight experiment can you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

For the first concept, we can build small prototypes and gauge kids' interest (parents, too). For the second concept, we could write up rules for the game and get a group of people to play it to make sure the rules aren’t too convoluted.

What skills, input or guidance are you keen to connect with from the OpenIDEO community to help you build out or refine your idea?

I’d love to get a fresh perspective on this from someone with plenty of creative ideas (especially from people with kids)! We’ve been staring at this idea for too long, but we think there is a lot of potential.

This idea emerged from

  • A student collaboration

Does your idea currently have an Indiegogo campaign drafted?

  • No


Join the conversation:

Photo of Charity

I am very much in love with the idea of having physical play supplemented with digital learning. I have 4 nieces aged 5 to 12 and I can attest to both their love for going outside to play, and their love for technology and staring at screens. Bringing mobile gamification and learning to the playground seem like a great way to introduce and reinforce good eating habits while also relating to young people in a format that they will understand.
I think that if you turned it into more of a game that would be great. Maybe a type of Lazer Tag that they could play with the design of the park. In any case, I think you're on the right track.

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