Canastota selected for mindless eating research

Around 70 seventh graders at Canastota Junior-Senior High School were given iPhones from Cornell University for its "Mindless Eating Challenge." Canastota was chosen to be the Central New York School participating in Cornell's research project, thanks to consumer science teacher Kelly Boswell's proactive approach.

Boswell read a story on the phone-based health game, which is based on Dr. Brian Wansink's book "Mindless Eating." She realized her class fit the criteria needed for the study and contacted Wansink.

How it works is students are given the phone/mini-computer and are instructed how to use it. They are given a virtual pet that they name and must care for. The game is similar to the popular Tamagotchi games of the early 90s. The student follows certain recommendations for eating. Before eating a meal students take a picture of the meal and emails it to researchers at Cornell. Based on the food choice, the pet will respond happy or sad, depending on whether the choice was healthy. The student will also receive an email with food choice suggestions. The research will help Cornell's study on improving health and well-being.

A social portion of the game allows the student to see performances of other students in the group in comparison to their own.

"Our goal is to help teens live happy and healthy," said Sahara Byrne, Cornell research participant.

Boswell said she is excited about the project because her students not only get a lesson in nutrition, but have the opportunity to see other careers at work. Cornell participants are earning degrees in science and video game design. The iPhones also incorporate technology into the class.

"They are so lucky to be able to do this," Boswell said. "Another school could have been chosen. And Cornell wants to come back to do more research with us."

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