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Health IT Positively Affects Childhood Obesity

According to a study done by Pediatrics recently, more than one-third of children in the United States are overweight or obese. That’s a very scare figure, because that definitely increases the child’s chance of diseases like type-2 diabetes, and adult obesity. The authors of the study also noted that childhood obesity is often times undertreated and goes undiagnosed. As sad as it is, I have seen this

The study set out to see if Health IT may improve the “quality, efficiency and reach of chronic disease management,” according to this article. According to another article about this study, some of the parts of the study that are most relevant towards health IT included that “telemedicine was as effective as in-person counseling at reducing BMI and that text messaging and phone support were associated with weight loss maintenance.”

Combating childhood obesity is something I am very passionate about. As a child, and into my teenage years, I could have been classified as extremely overweight — probably even obese. While I’ve worked very hard to beat the statistics, and get my weight down to a now healthy weight, it is something that truly has affected my entire life to this day. And the thing is, when I was at the unhealthy weight that I was, no one said anything. No doctor, my parents, or anyone. Sure, I was encouraged to take a PE class here and there, and perhaps not take seconds — but no one saw that problem for what it was. Because of the things I went through, I want more than anything to prevent my own children from becoming overweight themselves. Reading this study, and seeing how health IT can positively affect childhood obesity was neat. While I think too much screen time can really contribute to the problem, I’m glad that there efforts out there to try and get kids involved in their own health, particularly by using electronics — something that most kids love. I hope that more Health IT developers will see the importance of creating apps, programs, and devices geared toward children. I couldn’t find any, but it would be cool if there were exercise apps that kids could put on their iPods that are similar to ones that adults have, but that are geared toward exercises more children participate in.  In my research, I found a few health IT apps and websites aimed toward kids that I think could be helpful:

Food Hero:
This is a game that was created by HealthSocial, a non-profit project based at the Children’s Hospital in Boston. To win the game, the child must “become” a food hero. To do this, the child must make their character make healthy choices, like eating healthy food and exercising, and earning gold along the way. If the character eats too much, physical challenges become more difficult. However, if too little is eaten, the character has difficult participating as well. The goal is to ultimately eat healthy meals. It seems like this game would be a great visual for children to see what happens when you don’t have balanced meals.

Food ‘N Me:
This website was created to promote healthy living in children. It has interactive games, quizzes like “What Food Am I.” This quiz has the child choose the foods they have eaten throughout the day, and it gives a rating at the bottom of the screen, telling the child how balanced it was. At the end of the quiz, it tells you what kind of food you are, based on your choices. For instance, if you eat primarily grains, it will say you are a bagel. The website also features the game Smash Your Food, which is also available on mobile devices, and I’ll talk about next.

Smash Your Food:
This app was on Michelle Obama’s “Apps for Health Kids” contest. Whether the person is using it online or on a mobile device, it works about the same. You get to “smash” foods — from milkshakes, hamburgers, to healthy, homemade meals. — and it tells you what it is made of.  The goal of it is to encourage children (and their parents) to understand what is in their meals, and to make healthy choices at home and on the go. It can be accessed at the Food ‘N Me website, or downloaded for the iPhone or iPad here for 2.99.

February 13, 2013 I Written By

Katie Clark is originally from Colorado and currently lives in Utah with her husband and son. She writes primarily for Smart Phone Health Care, but contributes to several Health Care Scene blogs, including EMR Thoughts, EMR and EHR, and EMR and HIPAA. She enjoys learning about Health IT and mHealth, and finding ways to improve her own health along the way.

Zamzee: An Online Rewards Program Based on Physical Activity

Childhood obesity is an epidemic that is raging across America and shows little sign of slowing down.  One major cause of this tragic sickness is the incredible growth of gaming in all of its many forms. 

But, what if there was a game that actually encouraged teenagers to get up and be active in any way that they find enjoyable?  That is exactly what Zamzee is shooting for.  They have developed an online rewards community that is totally based on its players being active.

Participants wear a small meter that is about the same size as a thumb drive for your computer.  The meter then tracks your activity throughout the day.  It could be as intentional as playing sports or going for a run, or as simple as dancing around in your bedroom, but any activity is good activity for you to progress in this community.

As your activity level increases you boost your status in the community and you can even convert your activity into currency which can then be spent in their online store.  Judging by the pictures on their site it looks like you can redeem your activity cash for items such as gift cards from major retailers. 

Based upon the popularity of games on sites such as Facebook where you earn nothing more than a shiny ribbon on your screen it seems incredibly likely that teenagers would be interested in earning actual prizes they could use.  The power of social networking is also likely to play into the success of this web-based application.

People love showing off anything and everything on Facebook and Twitter and this is likely to be just as prevalent when it comes to showing off how much activity you have participated in, and maybe more importantly for Zamzee’s success, how many prizes you have earned.

So how much will this game really help improve health?  During the tests that they performed, accounting for over 10,000 days wearing the Zamzee, they found that teenagers were 30% more active.  That is about the same as running an extra marathon every month, and that is quite an improvement.

The Zamzee is set to go out to the public sometime this year, and it will be interesting to see how well it catches on, but one thing is for sure: if it helps any kid or teenager get healthier then it is at least a few steps in the right direction.

April 14, 2011 I Written By