You might not think a mixed reality headset could help kids eat their vegetables, but that's the exact premise behind Habit.at—the app that won the "Social Good" category at the 2016 HoloHacks competition in Los Angeles.
The Habit.at team, consisting of Mariana Acuña-Acosta, Jinsoo An, Tim Lobes, and Nathan Strong, looked at the least popular vegetables (e.g., beets, eggplant, cauliflower, etc.) and wondered why these vegetables are so unappealing. Through consulting scientific studies, they found that eating is mostly a learned behavior and we pick up the bad habits in as early as six months.
With 30% of 2-3 year olds not eating even a single serving of vegetables, that sets quite a few kids up for a variety of potential health problems in the future. Everyone needs a balanced diet with plenty of good nutrients, and vegetables serve as a major component.
Habit.at uses the HoloLens to create a 3D environment around the child's plate so they can associate positive, fun things with their food—even if that food is one of those supposedly awful vegetables.
It seems like an odd way to make a meal appetizing, but it makes a lot of sense when you think of how many of us enjoy eating with friends, while watching television, or in a variety of environments that make things more fun.
For kids, a pleasant atmosphere with roaming 3D animals can provide more positive associations with problem foods. As a kid, I would eat anything on my plate if I could eat with my friends or watch television at the same time.
Although the app is still a concept, and the HoloLens is a bit heavy for long-term use on some children in its current form, it demonstrates a unique potential solution to the serious nutrition problem we face in America and many other parts of the world. When it makes its way into the Windows Store, it'll hopefully help more children engage positively with healthy eating and live better lives as they grow up.