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What do the First Lady, Steve Wozniak, and FarmVille's Mark Pincus all have in common?

If you're tired of building apps for the iPhone, if you're tired of worrying whether the capricious reviewers at Apple will approve the fruits of your labor, consider dusting off those programming chops and help the First Lady slim down our chubby kids.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor on

If you're tired of building apps for the iPhone, if you're tired of worrying whether the capricious reviewers at Apple will approve the fruits of your labor, consider dusting off those programming chops and help the First Lady slim down our chubby kids.

Michelle Obama wants you to build Apps for Healthy Kids in a contest being judged by, among others, the inventor of the Incredible Woz Machine and a guy who is systematically sucking the souls out of Facebook users.

I am a big boy. As far as I'm concerned, the five basic food groups consist of steak, chocolate, burgers, caffeine, and pizza. My mom did her best to raise me right, but as soon as I went to college, I realized it was in fact possible to live on ice cream and Mexican food.

Since I grew up in the days before there were video games, I actually spent time outside. I played baseball on our block with other kids, walked three miles each day to school (up hills both ways), hiked and played football at summer camp (real football, not that round spotted thing Europeans think is football), and did all manner of other disturbingly healthy outdoor activities.

I was actually reasonably fit and robust. I was a little heavier than most kids, so I grew up with the sense that I was fat, but when I look at pictures of myself back then, I was actually a pretty normal little creature.

Thankfully by the time I reached college, rudimentary interactive computers like the PDP-8 and DEC-10 were available, and I could begin my long slide into sun avoidance.

The problem with this kind of lifestyle is that it's fundamentally unhealthy. And because today's kids actually have something to do at home that's interesting (Halo, anyone?), they're often willing to sit home ("sit" being the operative word) and trash talk on XBox Live, rather than go outside and move their little bodies.

Now, I'll admit I'm a little leery of the First Lady's Let's Move! campaign to end childhood obesity. I worry that it could become another excuse to hate fatty, to justify increased discrimination, and to keep all of us Kevin Smiths off planes to the smug satisfaction of The Svelte.

But the fact is obesity rates have tripled over the last 30 years. While it's possible for us big folk to be fit, as we get older, we can experience health problems that might otherwise be avoided.

And that brings us back to eating apples, rather than begging Apple to accept our Apps. The Apps for Healthy Kids program kicked off last week. The program encourages developers to build games and tools that help children make "more nutritious food choices and be more physically active."

You might make more money with iPhone Apps, but there's a total of $40,000 in prize money for the First Lady's program. If you win, you'll have to go outside (the sun, it burns!), because you'll be honored at the White House in a special ceremony.

The contest is platform agnostic. You can build an AJAX application online, an Android app, a PC or Mac program, or even an iPhone app. How ironic would it be if the White House awarded your iPhone app a prize, but some faceless droid at Apple declined it for some arbitrary reason, like, oh, "We don't allow the mention of 'oranges' in Apple applications"?

But I digress. You have until June 30, 2010 to build your application (software) and submit your application (the contest entry).

Now, here's where it gets a little messy. If you build an application, you must use the USDA Nutrition Dataset. You can also use other datasets found at Data.gov, but the USDA Nutrition Dataset uses the government approved food pyramid. According to some health professionals, today's food pyramid may provide misleading guidance.

The Apps for Healthy Kids program isn't just about healthy eating. It also opens the door for innovative exercise programs. Given how popular the Wii Fit has been, building an innovative piece of exercise software may yield considerably more rewards than just winning the prize money.

Personally, although I avoid the "big, blue room" (outside) as much as possible, I do stay fit through regular exercise -- and so should you. I do cardio and lift weights six days a week, on the average a few tons each day (those reps add up!).

Maybe someday, I'll have awesome arms like Michelle.

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