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Learning about the impact of food in a playful way University of Twente researchers work on interactive game environment

The average Dutch diet is often not a very healthy one. In addition, what we eat in the Netherlands often affects the environment in major ways. Researchers and students at the University of Twente therefore launched the ACHIEVE project: an interactive playing environment that lets children discover the impact that nutrition has on their health and the natural environment in a playful way. For this project they will collaborate with, among others, LTO Noord, Mineral Valley Twente, local farmers, and the Leussink Retail Group supermarket company.

From farm to supermarket

Janet van den Boer, postgraduate Nutrition and eHealth, is leading the project together with Robby van Delden, who specializes in human-media interaction. Van den Boer: ‘Many people find it difficult to eat sustainably and healthy. Food choices are complex, and we do not experience any direct impact of food decisions on our health or on the environment.’ People also often do not know the road a product has travelled before ending up in the supermarket, and what a product does to your body after consumption. Without the right knowledge, they cannot take the impact of their choices into account. With this project, we want to provide people the necessary information in a playful manner, to make it easier to make responsible choices. We deliberately opt for local products to make the process more tangible: the impact of those products is immediate and in your own backyard instead of on the other side of the world.’

Together with secondary school and university students

During the first phase of the study, researchers will delve into the necessary technologies and the contents of the game environment. Secondary school students will also be asked for their opinions. Van den Boer: ‘This research focuses on imparting knowledge to children. After all, you have to catch them young. By involving these students in the design from the beginning, we will receive quick feedback which will allow us to continue with ideas that they like.’

In the second phase of the project, students from the Interaction Technology Master Programme will start developing the ideas into working prototypes. The final product should be suitable for playing in a supermarket. That is why the students will not work on their design in isolation. They will collaborate with the target group – children – and with supermarket entrepreneurs. Van den Boer: ‘You can reach a wide audience in a supermarket, not just people who are already interested in the subject. It is also a place that parents and children visit together, and where they make choices about whether or not to buy something.’

Professional product

The researchers hope that the students’ designs will eventually be developed into a professional product, in collaboration with farmers and other partners. ‘It will of course be exciting to see whether it will work and how people are going to use the game environment. How do people move during the game? What do they learn from it? And does the game actually have an effect on the choices they make in practice? Ultimately, we want people to choose healthier and more sustainable foods on their own, to be more aware of what food does to their bodies and to see everything that has to happen before food ends up on their plates.’

C.A. van der Kuil (Corjan)
Communication advisor sustainability, energy & environment