By Jasmine Stephens, Family Editor
The World Health Organisation regards childhood obesity as one of the biggest global public health challenges of this century. The latest figures from the National Child Measurement programme show that over 33% of 10-11 year olds and 22% of 4-5 year olds are either obese or overweight. Public Health England has reported that in 5-7 year olds, 76% of boys and 77% of girls do not meet the government’s own physical activity recommendations. Stark figures. Barely a day goes by without a news story telling us of the dangers this poses in terms of the future health of the nation and the cost to the NHS.
What can we do about it? The causes of childhood obesity are complicated; diet, activity levels and socio-economic status all play their part and there is no simple solution, but the crux of the matter is that old truism; children need to eat less and do more exercise.
Could tech help? With wearable tech being the big story of the past 12 months and primed for more growth in 2015, it was inevitable that wearable tech for kids would follow. We tried the LeapBand from LeapFrog to see if it could get my 6-year old moving more.
The LeapBand is a wristwatch-style device aimed at 5-7 year olds and features different virtual pets which can be fed, nurtured and accessorised by completing physical challenges in return for ‘joules’. The device tracks all movement even when in the default ‘move mode’ and the ‘player mode’ encourages further physical activity with over 50 audio instructions such as ‘Walk like a monkey’ and ‘Pretend to pick as many flowers as you can’. The more points that are earned, the more pets and games that can be unlocked.
As a parent, I was pleased that the LeapBand could be charged via USB and the device seemed well built. Water resistant with a shatterproof screen, it certainly seems robust enough for the tough time it will inevitably get from young children. It also acts as a watch and stop-watch and parents are able to programme it to have ‘quiet times’ when the child cannot access the games or pets. My daughter loved the different characters and was motivated to reach goals and earn ‘joules’ both through the challenges and the knowledge that the device was tracking her as she got on with her day. She did find that it was quite bulky on her wrist and after a while she said it was getting a bit uncomfortable. The functionality is extended by the ability to download a partner app called ‘Petathalon Games’ onto compatible devices such as tablets and smartphones.
Whether we like it or not, technology is now an integral part of every child’s life. Although I don’t think tech such as the LeapBand is going to solve the nation’s obesity crisis in one swoop, anything that encourages children to move more in a fun way without them even realising that they are exercising can only be applauded.