Health and fitness technologies, such as apps, activity trackers and websites, are a growing presence in our everyday lives. When used properly, these technologies can be powerful tools for helping people develop better health habits. But do they offer the same benefits for children?
Although there will always be some debate surrounding kids and technology, many believe that tools such as fitness wearables can be effective for motivating, tracking and encouraging kids to be more physically active. And children who are physically active are much more likely to become physically active adults.
Using fitness technology with kids, however, requires a little “tweaking” of the tool for the best possible outcomes. Here are four things to consider when using fitness technology with kids:
Gamification of Health
At a recent trade show, I came across a company that is making a game out of health for kids through some interesting partnerships. Their device is a wearable that tracks physical activity, and they are partnering with Disney, which rewards kids with points that can be used within various Disney games. Want more points to reach the castle? Go outside and be more active to earn the points. Of course, you can follow the same approach with your own kids by rewarding them with screen time after checking their physical activity levels during the day via a wearable device (e.g., Fitbit). You can learn more about video games and health at https://gamesforhealth.org/.
Wearable 2.0: The Hand-me-down Fitbit
With newer models of fitness wearables hitting the market every year, there will soon be a large number of quality used fitness trackers available, which could be “handed down” to a child. The benefits? The adult already knows the device, it’s free and now the family can be connected through a social network (through the device, Facebook or Twitter) to allow for friendly competitions and motivation. You can learn more about the power of fitness social networks through other ACE blog posts.
Don’t Forget About the Privacy Settings
Privacy and security of anything related to your health and fitness should always be a concern, particularly for children. Be sure to check all the settings on their smartphones and any apps or wearables that may be pulling information from them. It is also important to be aware of any age guidelines that accompany certain apps and wearables. The last thing you want to do is to share private information about kids online.
I was involved in the design of a pilot project for a new middle school that wanted to give each child a Fitbit to measure his or her physical activity. During our planning sessions, we also came up with a proposal for the Parent Teach Association (PTA) to sell additional Fitbits to family members (giving money back to the PTA and creating a social network for health for the entire school). In this way, we could, for example, see how much sleep each child was getting during the school year, measure heart rate before, during and after tests, and create friendly competitions between different classes in the school. The wearables also served as a tool that physical education teachers could use to supplement (not replace) what they were doing in the classroom or on the field. The point here is to encourage you to consider the countless opportunities wearables offer for helping your communities increase physical activity participation and, as a result, improve overall health and fitness levels as well.
Fitness and health technology is not a magic bullet that will fix all of our health and fitness problems. It can, however, be a powerful tool that health coaches and personal trainers can use within their own communities, including programs targeted toward youth.
- 2016 Physical Activity Council Participation Report
A recent study by Price Waterhouse asked parents what they thought about fitness technologies such as wearables. Parents reported being in favor apps and devices that include these five capabilities:
- Keep their children safe.
- Help them exercise smarter.
- Make healthcare more convenient.
- Enable healthier eating.
- Make technology simpler to use.