Childhood Obesity Prevention Gets a New Tool

Blog written by Claire Celeste Carnes.

When I was a kid, my brothers and I would play outside until it was getting too dark to see. Even then, we’d grab a flashlight, and play flashlight tag until our parents called us in for the night.

Fast forward 30 years. Phones are now mini-computers – and ubiquitous – with video and social media engaging kids in elementary and middle schools. Games are now played inside, on gaming consoles. The result? Kids are less active than they were 30 years ago.

September is Childhood Obesity Awareness month, and there’s a lot of data on the problem – and an interesting solution.

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that children and adolescents aged 6-17 years should have 60 minutes or more of physical activity each day. Most kids get less; nearly three out of four kids get less than an hour of activity daily, as reported by the CDC in its 2015 High School Risk Behavior Survey.  

Physical inactivity is connected to an increase in obesity and the associated chronic diseases among youth. Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years[1]. This has long-lasting implications because children and adolescents who are obese are likely to be obese as adults[2] and obesity-related diseases in adults are expected to lead to $580B in health care costs of by 2030.

But how do you convince kids to reduce their screen time and get more active?

You use technology!

We found a company that encourages kids to be more active without nagging. Sqord is a platform for motivating kids and their families to be more physically active. The platform includes a wearable that tracks physical activity through an accelerometer and a software application which includes key behavioral change components cleverly disguised as a fun, engaging game.  Players can use the platform to create an avatar, challenge their friends, communicate with one another securely and safely, see their activity levels, achieve goals, and generate rewards. Sqord makes tracking activity of all types – from biking to jump rope to playing kickball to walking the dog – more fun and rewarding.  And Sqord has even integrated Pokemon Go! as an activity type.

 

My Avatar on Sqord, rocking the glasses and showing my activity levels!

My Avatar on Sqord, rocking the glasses and showing my activity levels!

Sqord was originally introduced to us by the Snohomish County Health Leadership Coalition, a group of business and community organization leaders in an area just north of Seattle WA, in its quest to address several of community health issues. The challenge of childhood obesity is one that was identified as a priority and the coalition brought in Sqord to help address the challenge. The coalition built a program around using these devices called Gear up and Go!  In the initial year of the Gear Up and Go! program, the results exceeded expectations. In a time in which activity levels are expected to decline, the team was hoping that kids would retain their activity levels throughout the school year. To their astonishment, full year participants’ activity levels actually increased from the beginning of the program to the end of the school year, by 12 percent the first year, and 15 percent the second year.

Increasing physical activity is one way to help children be healthier and Sqord has demonstrated results in increasing activity levels by double-digits in markets like Alaska, showing 26% increase in physical activity in their initial cohort overall and a 65% increase in kids who were previously the least active. Results are even more dramatic when compared against what is generally seen at this age group, which is the beginning of a 76% decline in activity levels over the course of the following four years.  Sqord has now been distributed to over 65,000 kids across the US.

This year, Sqord has grown from the original deployments, scaling up nationally and world-wide, and gearing up for a consumer launch this fall.

Childhood obesity is a complex problem with a multitude of factors. But encouraging kids to get up and get active through Sqord is one of the ways we can help kids develop health habits to last a lifetime. Flashlight tag may have been a successful movement “technology” in my youth; I’m glad Sqord is helping my own kid and others revive the pure joy of moving with friends today.  

 

[1] Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Kit BK, Flegal KM. Prevalence of childhood and adult obesity in the United States, 2011-2012. Journal of the American Medical Association 2014;311(8):806-814 and National Center for Health Statistics. Health, United States, 2011: With Special Features on Socioeconomic Status and Health. Hyattsville, MD; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2012.

[2] Freedman DS, Kettel L, Serdula MK, Dietz WH, Srinivasan SR, Berenson GS. The relation of childhood BMI to adult adiposity: the Bogalusa Heart Study. Pediatrics2005;115:22–27. Freedman D, Wang J, Thornton JC, et al. Classification of body fatness by body mass index-for-age categories among children. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine 2009;163:801–811.