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CMU Start-Up Aims For Healthier Kids

The Allegheny Health Department reported that 30% of school age kids in the county are obese or overweight, and a new Pittsburgh start-up aims to address this issue with animated characters shaped like food and 6 years of research at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU).  

Fitwits combines stories, games, and instructions for parents and professionals on how to deal with the sensitive subject of obesity.

“When a teacher can run a program in her classroom and start to talk to kids about obesity and the health effects of obesity, she has a whole crew behind her, these characters called the fitwits and the nitwits that help explain these very difficult concepts,” said Hughes.

The games and stories teach different healthy living tricks throughout the narratives that kids can easily adopt including the hand trick to compare portion sizes to your hands to see if they’re too big or too small.

“So I think through the cast of characters, and these third person narratives and stories, kids are curious and they want to learn more about the characters,” said Kisten Hughes, the founder of Fitwits and a professor at CMU, “and for a physician or healthcare provider it makes it very non-threatening to start to have a conversation about something that is very difficult and challenging,”

Fitwits is developing an online element which will give kids a way to learn about local issues that affect healthy living.

Throughout the six years of research Hughes says they learned how effective the program could be when used by professionals.

“Physicians that were not typically having the conversation started to have the conversation and physicians that were having the conversation, extended their conversation. It began to build confidence and comfort level among the physicians so they felt more comfortable talking to young kids, and they felt more confident around the subject matter,” said Hughes

Fitwits is going through a national trial with a California health insurance agency.

Jess was accepted as a WESA fellow in the news department in January 2014. The Erie, PA native attends Duquesne University where she has a double major--broadcast journalism and political science. Following her anticipated graduation in May 2015, she plans to enter law school or begin a career in broadcast journalism.