Can Games and Social Media Help Solve Childhood Obesity?

November 12, 2013
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Social media and technology, no doubt, is changing the world bringing more connectivity than ever before. Social media and blog marketing have been amazing tools for bringing so many of the world’s issues to the forefront.

One of those issues is childhood obesity. I recently chatted with  OurFamilyWorld on Twitter and asked to interview them.

OurFamilyWorld is an organization dedicated to helping parents in all aspects of life, from conception through family budgeting. They are especially passionate about bullying, teenage pregnancy and childhood obesity. All three play a major role in a child’s health. The simple fact is, when your child is healthy, your family life runs more smoothly. 

How big is the childhood obesity issue?

Too big! The American Heart Association’s last published statistics indicate that nearly 24 million children are overweight. The Centers for Disease Control reports that it’s on the decline for the first time in many years, so we all must be doing something right, but it’s still too much of a problem in North America. We still have a long way to go to get it under control.

What are the many issues? Is it poverty? Poor eating choices? Lack of exercise?

The largest affected group tends to be children from low-income houses. Parents in those households often work several jobs, leaving kids on their own after school when they’re old enough or in understaffed subsidized daycare facilities when the kids are smaller. When parents do get home, they may be too tired to prepare a healthy meal. Many of these families are on assistance like food stamps and feel like they can’t afford healthier options. It’s often cheaper to buy four $1 microwave meals to feed a family of four than it is to prepare a healthy meal.

Lack of exercise also plays a major role in childhood obesity. Kids are more media-driven than we were as children. They’re not out climbing trees and hiking through the woods on grand adventures as much anymore. In my own neighborhood, I rarely ever see kids outside playing. Parents worry more about their kids getting hurt, so they tend to limit the amount of exploring kids can do.  While it’s great to be protective, our over-protective tendencies could be keeping our children from staying active. I’m just as guilty as the next parent! The thought of my son climbing a tree freaks me out. He could fall! He could break his head! Of course, I fell out of trees as a kid and I’m just fine.

Do you know of any novel programs using technology and social media to help kids/families learn to eat right? (Games/ online programs?)

I think many organizations are starting to catch on that technology is the way to reach today’s child. Games like Eat to Win and FitNFlash Cards are incorporating fun time with active time. Even our gaming systems are becoming more interactive. The Wii revolutionized the gaming industry by getting kids up and moving, and all the other systems have since created games and add-ons that use your body as the controller. While it’s still important to limit your child’s “screen time,” incorporating active games into their video game allowance is a great way to get them moving.

Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign offered up $60,000 to software developers for coming up with apps that help children learn to be more active and make healthier food choices. I expect to see a lot more use of technology to help fight childhood obesity because of this alone. Of course, nothing replaces good old-fashioned outdoor active playtime, but we live in a different generation and it’s important that we use every tool available to get childhood obesity under control.

How important is social media in changing the course of childhood obesity?

Social media is important because it is such a useful tool for spreading the word about the problem. It’s also a great way to let parents know “hey, we may have a solution that helps you!” Parents are incredibly busy people, as I’m sure you know! It’s easier for us to hop on Twitter or Facebook and search for a keyword, then scan the titles quickly than it is to dig through a newspaper hoping to stumble across something helpful. We can follow groups that share insight and get all the information we need in bite-sized chunks when we have time. Sites like Pinterest are also great for finding easy healthy recipes at a glance.

What are steps parents should take?

Honestly, there are only two things parents really need to do: feed their kids a healthy balanced diet and get their kids moving. Of course, it’s easier said than done. I think every parent out there knows that a diet of cookies and doughnuts isn’t healthy, but it’s often a matter of finding the right resources to help them stretch their money or plan better meals. Consulting with a nutritionist is a great first step if parents have access to one or can afford one!  Even a pediatrician can help come up with a healthy eating plan.

Getting kids active should be easier, but in many cases, families live in areas without a safe open play area. Finding activities kids can do indoors might help in those cases. Parents could devise a reward system for getting active. For example, award ten minutes of video game play for every 30 jumping jacks. Kids love reward charts. They don’t have to be fancy- a piece of paper with grids and a pencil to make smiley faces will do in a pinch. Give them points for active time and reward them with affordable prizes. A low-income family may not have the money to take everyone out for a movie night but may be able to spring for a $1 Redbox rental once in a while. Prizes don’t have to cost a dime! It could be as simple as “get out of doing one chore” once you reach a goal.

The important thing is to do something! Be proactive! Don’t wait until your child has a problem before you start. Preventing childhood obesity is a lot easier than getting it under control once it becomes an issue.

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