Our team at University of Connecticut (UConn) Extension is developing a game to help consumers understand food labels. The Connect Extension chat included questions about food labels and gamification in Extension programs. We had 63 participants from across the country, including representatives from USDA, FDA, and HHS. You can access the chat archive at: https://connect.extension.org/...amifying-food-labels.
Chat participants agreed that there is confusion with labels and terms among the consumer audiences. They don't know what is healthy and what does not connote health. Extension needs to increase educational outreach related to food labels and use various mediums to reach consumers. Different labels vary in importance for consumer audiences, but these labels are not all equal. Education on the regulatory agencies is essential.
Audiences for Extension programs include 4-H, EFNEP, and others. Many in our chat focus on low income audiences, and some rural. Virtual and hybrid approaches are being used and our community partnerships have become even more important in light of COVID.
Some audiences already have biases about food labels. We have to understand their viewpoint, start with shared values, build a relationship, and use science-based information. Relationships we build with our audiences can help us bridge the gap with their opinions, especially if we do not force the information on them.
Games provide a way to increase learning in an interactive way whether they are for adults or youth. Incentives and recognition are important game features. People retain information better with a game format. Adults benefit with games as they are more fun than just information.
There are many game types that appeal to our audiences. Matching, visuals, a jeopardy style, spin the wheel, and card games are a few examples. Engaging or popular games are visual and provide feedback to the players. Feedback should be positive and not embarrass the players.
UConn Extension wants to share the game we are developing with Extension professionals throughout the country. Ideas suggested during the chat include color coordination as a creative way to frame different labels and reconnecting farmers and farm families with consumers. It was suggested to add a food processing component to link label concepts.
Training and resources are needed to incorporate a game or new technology into other Extension programs. Any game needs to be compatible on many platforms, accessible for all audiences, and target their needs. Our team is developing our food label game and welcomes additional ideas or input. Please feel free to email Stacey.Stearns@uconn.edu for more information or to receive notification when our game is launched.
Article by: Jen Cushman, Sharon Gray, and Stacey Stearns