Gamifying nutrition helps ākonga make healthier choices

Issue: Volume 102, Number 12

Posted: 13 September 2023
Reference #: 1HAc6x

Vegetables that turn into superheroes and time travel feature in a video game being used to teach tamariki about nutrition.

10. Gamifying nutrition helps akonga 01

Students Léala and Phoebe play the Nutri-islands game.

Primary school students aged 7–11 are invited to enter this fictional world to help the future citizens and learn about nutrition during an online game adventure.

It’s the year 2080 and all food is artificial and lacks nutrition.

Two Otago academics took their passion to help children be happy and healthy into the business realm when they established the Nutriblocks EdTech startup in 2020.

Dr Claudia Leong, who has a PhD in human nutrition, teamed up with University of Otago computer science lecturer Dr Veronica Liesaputra. They were motivated to make nutrition education more accessible.

“We know that having more fruits and vegetables in the diet is helpful and beneficial for children’s health, but how do we get children to eat more fruits and vegetables?” Claudia says.

“I’ve experienced that playing video games can change behaviour, so I was thinking, how can we use video games to promote positive behaviour?”

There were games to promote physical activity, maths and science on the market, while nutrition education games overseas were linked with copyrighted brands, she observed.

“I thought it would be nice to make something for New Zealand children. We want the children to be constantly reminded to talk about nutrition and talk about their health,” says Claudia.


The free Nutri-islands game was developed with funding support from the New Zealand Centre of Digital Excellence.

The co-design approach involved focus groups, playtesting, and pilot tests with schools in Dunedin and Christchurch to ensure that the game is both fun and educational.

In 2022 Tuia Burnside Primary School was involved in the pilot. Then the designers took the students’ feedback on board for updates before the game was launched this year.

Bianca Woyak teaches science in Years 1–6 and her teaching includes the Garden to Table programme, where students learn how to grow, harvest, cook and eat vegetables.

While half of the class group is cooking healthy food for one of these science sessions, the other half plays Nutri-islands. The students then swap what they are doing and finish up eating their food together. This supports ākonga to learn about the nutrition people require for growth and development, while gaining the skills needed to prepare food successfully and safely.

“At school you don’t really want students to have any more screen time than they currently have. But with Nutri-islands I can have half the class self-managing and engaged on a computer game learning about what we’re doing,” says Bianca.

By this age the students know that it is important to eat their vegetables and fruit and to moderate eating too much of one thing, but they don’t know why, she says.

“It’s good to provide them with the ‘why’ and this game helps as a cool tool to do that,” she says.

10. Gamifying nutrition helps akonga 02

Tuia Burnside Primary School teacher Bianca Woyak.

A cool tool

Each player has their own login, and the game saves their progress each time.

The topics are Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Iron, Protein, Carbohydrates and Fat.

“I find it a helpful tool. We’re doing the health and the science learning. The game is just another tool that we can use, especially in winter when sometimes you can’t get out to the garden,” says Bianca.

The players help Ote, the game’s protagonist, to improve the health of his whānau by learning and choosing the correct healthy food items for a given task.

“You need to collect things from the sparkling platforms – the foods. The iron, the protein and all those things that you need in the body. It’s a fun way of learning,” says Year 5 student Phoebe.

“There are coins you get, and you can buy clothes from the store and accessories so you can put them on the characters,” she says.

Year 6 student Léala rates Nutri-islands as the “funnest” video game at school.

“I think the people who created this just somehow put the learning in a fun way. It’s kind of cute as the professor turns into a dog,” she says.

Phoebe learnt that carrots are full of Vitamin A. But does that help you see in the dark?

“It can help you improve your vision but only to a limit, of course. It doesn’t keep growing and growing and growing like superhero powers!”

Phoebe shared a fun fact: 10 packs of oranges a day equals orange skin!

Nutrition at home

At the end of each level, players answer a question correctly to advance progress.

Before playing the game, Léata and Phoebe said they understood an average amount about their food, particularly about whether it was healthy or not healthy.

Now they say they are talking about food more at home and discussing healthy menu choices with their parents.

Parents have been in touch to marvel that their child actually ate zucchini, or to request a recipe, says Bianca.

Te reo Māori and educational video material is also woven into the game, which includes lesson plans for teachers. Take a look at link).

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 2:10 pm, 13 September 2023

Get new listings like these in your email
Set up email alerts