Gadgets for Get Up and Go

Playing a game on the iPad doesn’t burn too many calories. But some new gadgets and mobile apps aim to use technology to get kids moving. Richard and Sheri Schmelzer, parents of a 15-year-old, 12-year-old and 10-year-old, found that technology had become an indelible part of their children’s lives, and that there was no way around it.
“It’s their new playground. It’s their new backyard. You can’t beat it,” says Richard.
So, the parents asked: Could we use technology and awards to engage kids to want to go outside, instead of sitting on their butts and looking at Facebook all day?
In response, the couple, who previously had created the Jibbitz, the popular shoe charms worn on Crocs, came up with the GeoPalz and, more recently, the iBitz. The gadgets track how many steps a child takes a day, which are then tied to a virtual world where children can play games and redeem rewards for being physically active.
Theirs is one of the latest attempts to use technology to encourage fitness among kids. It comes as childhood obesity continues to climb, with nearly 18 percent of 6- to 11-year-old children labeled obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But the jury is still out on just how much technology can help. One research study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, found that teenagers playing active games on the Nintendo Wii burned more calories than when they played sedentary games. Still, the researchers added, playing tennis on the Nintendo Wii in the living room was certainly not the same as playing it outside on the tennis court. Another recent study at Baylor College of Medicine found that tweens given the Nintendo Wii with active games didn’t become more physically active than those with sedentary games.
One of the challenges, notes Dianne Ward, a nutrition professor at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, is developing technology that’s fun and addictive enough for children that they continue to use it even after the luster of the new gadget has worn off.
“The gaming part of it, the fun, social part, is going to have to be present for it to stick and for it to be long term,” she says.
Still, she adds, a game or gadget that encourages children to move around is an improvement over other forms of technology.
“It’s not necessary for all the devices to make the kid’s heart beat faster. It may also be good enough to get more light and moderate activity in kids who can be prone to couch sitting or computer sitting.”Here are some suggestions for tech that encourages get up and go.
GeoPalz • $25
Aimed at elementary school-aged children, the GeoPalz is a pedometer that measures steps and physical activity. The gadget looks like a ladybug, butterfly, soccer ball or other kid favorite icons, and clips to a child’s shoes or clothes.
GeoPalz is connected to an online world, where children can enter how many steps they have taken and see how far they have traveled.
Take 10,000 steps and earn 15 minutes of access to the website’s arcade games. Kids can also use their steps to earn points toward prizes. Parents can customize the prize wall by dragging and dropping items from Amazon.
iBitz • $34.99 to $49.99
Introduced in January and for sale this spring, the iBitz, available in an array of colors, was developed by the same folks behind the GeoPalz. It’s meant for older children who have outgrown the GeoPalz and have access to their parent’s hand-me-down smartphone.
The iBitz is connected to a mobile app. The child’s physical activity helps power a GeoBotz character, which needs to be nurtured with food and water, inside the app.
For $49.99, parents can also join in the fitness fun. Their iBitz is tied to the Unity adult app, which tracks activity, calories burned and weight. It also gives the parents the ability to see the entire family’s physical activity.
Kids wear the Sqord PowerBand on their wrist like a watch, where it measures their daily activity using a built-in accelerometer. Unlike the FitBit and other activity wristbands for adults, the Sqord PowerBand promises to be kid-proof, so it can be submerged in water and stomped on by little (or big) feet.
To transfer the data, kids swipe the PowerBand over a base station connected to a computer. From there, they can log onto the website and rack their activity and points. It also incorporates a social media component, allowing kids to post encouraging, pre-written messages on their friends’ pages or give their friends a virtual “high five” for achieving a goal. Still being tested, Sqord CEO Coleman Greene says he hopes the Sqord PowerBand will be available for consumers by the end of the year.
Zamzee • $29.95
The Zamzee meter clips to a child’s clothes or shoes and measures physical activity, from walking to riding a bicycle. Plug it into the computer and it uploads the data to a website, where kids can compete against each other on a leaderboard, earn badges and accumulate points to receive a prize. Parents can monitor their kids’ activity and see on a graph just how much their kids are moving throughout the day.
The Redwood City startup has been testing its technology with school kids, including some in the San Francisco Bay Area. In a six-month sponsored study, it found that middle-schoolers using Zamzee increased their physical activity by 60 percent, or about 45 more minutes a week.


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