White House honors Bellevue couple for battle against child obesity

To most 10-year-olds, a slice of greasy pepperoni pizza and a can of sugar-laced soda sounds like a practical lunch choice. The reality, according to the USDA nutrition dataset, paints a very different picture.

To most 10-year-olds, a slice of greasy pepperoni pizza and a can of sugar-laced soda sounds like a practical lunch choice.

The reality, according to the USDA nutrition dataset, paints a very different picture.

Packed full of unhealthy oils, salt and sugar, the seemingly harmless lunch becomes a slow ticking time bomb in the fight against obesity.

A new online software game created by Bellevue-based nutritionist Marta De Wulf and her husband, Frederic, aims to raise awareness about making healthy food choices for children and their families.

Smash Your Food is an online guessing game for children ages 9 to 12, that reveals the amounts of sugar, salt and oil in 10 common foods consumed by American children every day.

The interactive game takes images of food such as a slice of pizza, a hamburger or a milkshake and puts it into an animated smashing machine. The controller of the game is asked to guess the amount of sugar, salt and oil found in that particular food item. They then pull the “smash lever” and watch as the image of the food is smashed into a gloppy mess. Smash Your Food calculates the actual amount of oil, salt and sugar in the food item and a chart illustrates the difference between what someone of their gender, age and activity level needs in a meal and what they are actually consuming.

“It’s not about not ever eating potato chips or soda pop, it’s about awareness and making healthy choices and why,” said Marta De Wulf, who taught nutrition workshops in Bellevue schools for several years before coming up with the idea for Food N’ Me, the parent nutrition program of the Smash Your Food game.

“Until the children understand the connection between food and their own bodies, they won’t make the changes to eat healthier. The game came out of our wanting to show kids, in a fun and visual manner, what nutrition is all about,” she added.

On September 29, Smash Your Food was honored at the White House in Washington, D.C., as one of the top winners in the Apps for Healthy Kids contest, part of first lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign.

The campaign was created with the goal of ending childhood obesity within a generation. Apps for Healthy Kids challenged software developers, game designers, students, and other innovators to develop fun and engaging software tools and games that would drive children to eat better and be more physically active.

Smash Your Food was selected among hundreds of submitted entries. The top finalists in the Apps for Healthy Kids challenge were judged by leaders from the world of commerce, games (including Mark Pincus CEO Zynga, better known as Farmville) and Steve Wozniak, Co-Founder of Apple Computer, as well as representatives from the USDA and the US government.

The De Wulfs were recognized at the White House awards reception alongside noted guests including Tom Vilsack, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture; Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services; and Aneesh Chopra, Chief Technology Officer, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

“Smash Your Food is only the first phase in what we envision to be a well-rounded, educational and fun nutrition program for children,” said Marta De Wulf, referencing the umbrella program, Food N’ Me. “We went to painstaking lengths to put in quality sound, high definition and high quality images of food. We didn’t want to just create an education-based game. We wanted it to be fun and entertaining.”

According to the De Wulfs, phase two of Food N’ Me is set to launch in spring 2011 and is going to incorporate a full-service, personalized nutrition program for kids and parents based on the child’s age, gender, level of activity, food preferences and food allergies.

“This goes beyond pulling a lever and smashing a greasy hamburger – although kids do love that part,” she added, as an afterthought. “The Food N’ Me program is designed as a tool for parents, chalked full of support, tips, video demonstrations and recipes for picky eaters.”

The program will cater to a wide range of children, from a vegetarian-based diet to those who eat Kosher.

Not a fan of broccoli, no problem.

“Every child is different, so it was important for us to address that diversity and other environmental issues when creating Food N’ Me,” said Marta De Wulf. “Nutrition is important.:

She noted that from ages 5 to 12, children are in their formative years,the time to shape their habits and teach them a good foundation for eating healthy.

“We don’t want to just fix the problem of obesity, we want to prevent it from forming in the first place.”

Lindsay Larin can be reached at 425-453-4602.

For more information and to play the game, visit www.foodnme.com.