Last week, the 14th edition of the Danone Nations Cup was held in the UK, in the legendary Wembley Stadium. It brought together 32 teams from all around the world for three days of football, competition – and nutritional education.
One of the aims of the Danone Nations Cup is to teach the children about their own health, and how hydration and nutrition can help them lead active lives. Which is why the DNC teams put together a programme alongside the competition designed to foster the children’s awareness of nutritional issues.
This year, they presented a new game, “Nutrition Academy”, devised by Chaire Anca (the Chair for Food Science, Nutrition and Eating Behaviour, which is supported by Danone Research and AgroParisTech, the Paris Institute of Technology for Life, Food and Environmental Science in partnership with the Danone Institute International. To understand how the game works, what its objectives were and how the children felt about it, we talked to Nicolas Darcel, in charge of Chaire Anca, and Julien Ollivier, in charge of Nutrition training at the Chair, who worked on the “Nutrition Academy” project.
What was the aim of the game you developed for the DNC?
It was simple: to raise children’s awareness of a balanced diet. The game gets the players to prepare meals for virtual football teams. The menus have to be as diverse and balanced as possible and respect dietary recommendations, because the better you “feed” your team, the better it will perform on the field. Each real life team thus plays for its virtual avatar; it is a sort of competition that parallels the “real” football competition.
What is innovative about the game?
We tried to combine two different supports: video games and physical tools. To build their menus, the children had sets of playing cards, each one representing a kind of food and its nutritional qualities. This got the teams to talk together and collaborate on deciding what the best menus would be. Then they scanned QR codes on their cards in order to validate the composition of their menus on a computer – which would later give the results on the teams’ performance.
Did you also develop a different approach to nutritional messages?
Traditionally, what we do is present the ground rules of dietary balance and the main food categories, and then we draw conclusions and recommendations from that. Here, our intention was to use a specific experience as a starting point: the football game. You need certain qualities to play football (strength, stamina, team spirit, concentration and the ability to recover), which are related to your diet.
For instance, water and sugar will help you with the concentration part; proteins will give you strength; you will achieve team spirit more easily if you share meals with your team rather than eat a snack on your own, and so on.
We thus tried to get the children to think about what they were experiencing as football players during the DNC. And to ensure that these messages were clear to them, we showed them five animated films explaining which cards corresponded to each of the qualities they were looking for. The information was also available on each of the cards.
How did the collaboration with the DNC teams go?
The Chair’s objective is firstly to carry out research work on nutrition and food behaviour, and secondly to come up with innovative and efficient teaching tools for nutritional training purposes. As such, we have been working on “serious games” for a year and a half now.
As we work a lot with Danone’s Nutrition department, we naturally developed links with the DNC teams, who were looking for new, impactful teaching tools for their nutrition stand.
Since we had already designed a serious game for children, we thought it was the right way to go for the DNC too. It is fun, it is designed for everyone and it is not difficult. The DNC teams trusted us on that, and given the first results, we believe they were right to!
What kind of results did you get? How do you evaluate the success of the game?
Firstly, the children’s reactions: they were happy to play the game and were very enthusiastic. Each team had to play at least twice a day, and many of them actually played much more than that. At the end of each game, they would be given advice to help improve their results, which encouraged them to play again and see if they could do better. It seems that they understood the nutritional messages correctly, but we still have to analyse all the data gathered by the computers to make an accurate assessment.
Also, as the game was really a prototype, we factored in the possibility of improvement from the start. We designed questionnaires for the DNC teams and the people who were at the competition to identify what changes we could make.
What are the next steps for the “Nutrition Academy”?
Three teams worked together this year: Chaire Anca, the DNC and the Danone Institute International.
They all validated the scientific foundations and the messages delivered by the game.
As it was the first time a game of this sort had been tried out during the DNC, it allowed us to take a few risks and try new things. We really wanted to test this new approach to nutrition. We are still waiting for solid results but so far, it’s encouraging. Hopefully, next year the game will have improved, and we will have added new elements. It will no longer be a pilot!
We also hope to get all four Danone divisions on board; we believe they could all be interested in this project. We will be working on that in 2014.
(Photographies: © Sipa Press)