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New game encouraging healthy habits piloted with 5th graders in Pontiac Schools

Professional football player, Tahir Whitehead, teams up as game “coach”


CONTACT:  Bob Wheaton, 517-241-2112

PONTIAC, Mich – Some students in select Pontiac elementary schools will have the opportunity to pilot a fun, interactive game aimed at teaching the benefits of healthy eating and physical fitness.

The game, Tahir’s Playbook, is named after professional football player, Tahir Whitehead, who has his own avatar in the game and serves as the “coach” or “personal trainer” for the students.

The game, which is available as a computer-based game or mobile device app, is based on a concept called gamification that encourages a form of active learning that’s fun as well. 

“This is a really fun and positive approach to teaching students healthy habits,” said Nick Lyon, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) director. “We’ve teamed up with some great partners to try and change behaviors through game elements that address the nutrition, education and physical fitness challenges which many families face.”

Students playing Tahir’s Playbook can create an avatar of themselves and then join in challenges to track their eating, drinking and exercise habits. They can also engage in a series of mini-games to level up their fitness and prepare for the weekly “Big Game.” Along the way, students earn in-game achievements and rewards while being coached and mentored by an avatar of Tahir Whitehead. At the end of each week, the students collaborate with their team in the “Big Game” while competing against the opposing team. The team with the most energy wins.

The pilot allows for students to compete individually and as a class against others in their school. The principals and teachers at the pilot schools are able to create an avatar of themselves and play along with their students. At the end of the pilot, some lucky students will have the chance to meet Tahir Whitehead in person.

In addition to the game, Michigan State University Extension will be providing the six-week Show Me Nutrition curriculum to the students in participating elementary schools and providing free nutrition education classes on healthy cooking, food budgeting and reading food labels to parents and guardians of the students at the school. Parents and guardians who attend these free classes by MSU Extension will earn bonus points for their student to use in the Tahir’s Playbook game. 

MDHHS Pathways to Potential Success Coaches are assisting in piloting the program in the schools by obtaining the active parental informed consent and active student assent forms, handing out the usernames and passwords to the students, showing the students how the app works and by helping with nutrition surveys. 

Tahir’s Playbook is a game for students in Michigan schools developed by MDHHS, MSU Games for Entertainment and Learning Lab and MSU Extension. The game is free-to-play with no in-app purchases. The game can be downloaded on personal smart devices such as iPhones, iPads, or Android devices and there is also a web based portal that the students can use to play, too. The app was funded by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education grant. Whitehead volunteered his time to record voiceovers for the game.

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