Globally, obesity rates have nearly tripled since 1975, while the prevalence of overweight and obesity among children and adolescents aged 5-19 has risen dramatically from just 4% in 1975 to over 18% by 2016, during which over 340 million children and adolescents aged 5-19 were determined to be overweight or obese. Once considered a high-income country problem, overweight and obesity are now on the rise in low- and middle-income countries as well.
What can parents and healthcare providers do? Experts at Sheba Medical Center share the following advice.
Childhood obesity is associated with an increased risk of obesity, premature death, and disability in adulthood. At the same time, obese children also experience breathing difficulties, increased risk of fractures, hypertension, early markers of cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance, and psychological effects.
The fundamental cause of obesity and overweight is an energy imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended, which unfortunately is fast becoming a mainstay of modern life. This is exactly what a new Sheba Medical Center program seeks to address.
Teaming up with health, wellness, and fitness company UVTAL, creator of the popular active movement app Rumble, Sheba has launched a smartphone gaming-based app to help overweight and obese children achieve a healthier lifestyle.
Headed by Prof. Gal Dubnov-Raz, Director of Sport and Exercise Medicine at Sheba, and the telemedicine team at Sheba’s ARC Innovation Center, the program combines remote monitoring and professional healthcare support alongside an engaging platform that can help children and youth learn to adopt healthy habits through positive reinforcement, contests, and games.
The app runs in concert with a smartwatch that monitors sleep, heart rate, and physical activity, awarding players with digital “health coins” when they perform actions that promote a healthy lifestyle such as reaching a certain number of steps each day, exercising, watching healthy lifestyle content, and answering customized questionnaires. With their hard-earned coins, the children can then purchase healthy lifestyle-related prizes, including exercise equipment.
Each child can see how active they are compared to their peers, fostering healthy competition and a desire to succeed.
Throughout their participation in the program, children are accompanied by a team of experts from Sheba Medical Center’s Pediatric Sport and Healthy Lifestyle Clinic: A pediatrician and sports medicine specialist, a pediatric and sports nutritionist, a child exercise physiologist, and a sports psychologist, who monitor, counsel and encourage the children.
“This technology has a huge advantage in that it solves a problem that conventional medicine doesn’t always have the tools to address,” explained Iris Shtein, Co-Director of the Telemedicine Innovation Hub of ARC Innovation at Sheba Medical Center. “The incorporation of gamification has proven to keep kids connected and engaged for much longer.”
“The key to the program’s success is that it’s fun,” added Prof. Dubnov-Raz. “The medical staff and the technology are the building blocks, but the Rumble app brings the fun element, which is ultimately what keeps the children active and healthy.”