Following the publishing of the PSFK Future of Health Report, PSFK has been engaging with innovators inspired by the trends included within the document. Karen Lazlo, CEO of ZisBoomBah is working within the Healthy Apps for Kids project, an initiative of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign that helps illuminate our Gaming for Health trend. Karen shares her thoughts below on how gaming and healthy living for children can intersect:
The future of health lies in teaching our children lifelong habits to exercise and eat well. Gaming and social technologies present a tremendous opportunity to engage kids in a playful environment so they can learn through positive reinforcement on their own terms instead of being told what to do by nutrition experts, educators, and parents.
Healthy Apps for Kids challenges the software and game development community to develop tools that drive “tweens” (ages 9-12) to become more active and make better meal choices. Hundreds answered the call, which is part of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative to end childhood obesity within a generation. Public voting runs through August 14, with $60,000 in prizes, and winners awarded in September at the White House.
Obesity is the number one health problem in the U.S. with approximately $150 billion per year spent to treat obesity-related conditions. Over the last 30 years obesity rates tripled, and experts predict the problem could bankrupt our healthcare system in upcoming decades if trends are not reversed. Children now may face shorter lifespan expectancy than parents for the first time in history.
We all are responsible for the problem, and must work together to find a solution. Yet we have to be mindful that children have enough insecurities and unrealistic expectations placed upon them about their bodies. This is the most technologically savvy generation in history—whom we often call digital natives—let’s think through their perspective and engage them on their own terms.
Games engage tweens at the critical age when they’re still developing decision-making skills while aspiring to take on adult responsibilities. Our “Pick Chow!” entry in Healthy Apps for Kids, for example, flips conventional wisdom by encouraging kids to play with food—dragging and dropping ingredients onto a plate to create USDA approved healthy meals, which they can send to parents via email or SMS.
The next generation of innovators—PSFK readers of the future—don’t make distinctions between gaming, social technologies, and other daily activities, these are just things that they do. Empowering them to become part of the family meal planning process teaches decision-making skills they will retain in adulthood, while easing the burden on parents who are often too busy to take into consideration nutritional content of balanced meals.
We all might not understand the mechanics or appeal of how gaming works, but it’s not about us—it’s about the kids. They are our future, let’s step into their world and help them choose to live healthier lives. Please support Apps for Healthy Kids and Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign, and take a minute to imagine what it must be like to grow up these days.
Games tap into that playful aspect of being human that we all have, perhaps the best way to tackle the problem of obesity is to be a little more childlike, to tap into our collective experiences so that we can work together to create a healthier future—and maybe have a little more fun along the way.