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A solution “fit” for Internet generations

Posted Apr 09 2009 6:21pm

Screen time can have a positive influence in children’s everyday lives.
Chances are, you’ve heard a thing or two about the childhood obesity epidemic that’s plaguing today’s youth. Countless publications report that kids and teens are spending excessive amounts of time with computers and televisions, which is causing inactivity levels to rise and bring further health implications, both now and later in life. Many reports go on to say that the solution to this problem lies in reversing the technological trend and finding our way back to the good old days when kids played outside from sun-up until sun-down.

    But is going back in time really a logical solution?

Technology is here to stay. So instead of fighting this trend, why don’t we find a way to use it to our advantage in the fight against childhood obesity?

    The average American child, aged 2-17, watches 25 hours of TV per week, spends one hour of their day playing video or computer games and an additional 36 minutes every day on the Internet, according to George Comstock and Erica Scharrer’s 2007 publication of Media and the American Child.

Realizing that computers and related gizmos are large parts of everyday life, it only makes sense that we find a way to tap into this virtual world and use it in a way that is positive and influential for children and their healthy habits.

    Yes – obesity rates were lower when children spent countless hours outside, but how long will we dwell on the fact that they love this tech-world?

Maybe the answer lies in meeting children where they want to be and engaging them in a virtual play place …

    And what better way to reach the masses, than on the World Wide Web?

Take the State of Indiana for example. The Indiana State Department of Health and INShape Indiana have partnered with children’s Web site, GoTrybe.com, to provide school-aged children with an online source for fitness and wellness information. Funding the program for kids and teens across the state, government officials have shown that they embrace the changing of times and are willing to adapt to reach their young residents.

    Indiana State Health Commissioner Judy Monroe, M.D. said, “Public health must keep up with the latest communications technology and continually try to talk with young people about health in ways they find interesting and engaging. GoTrybeIN.com provides our state with a great opportunity to try out a technology-based initiative and gauge its effectiveness in communicating with young people and teachers across the state.”

Promoting the use of the GoTrybe program in Indiana homes, kids and teens can use the bank of ever-growing, ever-changing digital fitness videos as a way to replace some of their daily sedentary screen time with something GoTrybe calls Active Screen Time™. The fitness content is led by certified trainers and the nutrition and wellness information is provided by a registered dietitian. Workouts include hip hop dance, kickboxing, pilates, sports drills and countless other variations of physical activity. Related nutrition, motivation and wellness content changes on a daily basis, providing a new experience for children every day they visit the site.

    Plus the program awards points for completing activities and rewards children with online activities after getting active.

And since the program is available via the Internet, every child in the nation has the ability to get off the couch and engage in GoTrybe’s unique play place.

    A study conducted by the Department of Family Medicine in Rochester, New York showed that energy expenditure more than doubles when sedentary screen time is converted into physical activity. Therefore by promoting activity and using modern technology and games as the medium, children can increase their energy expenditure while in front of a screen.

The study continues to say that such interventions might be considered for obesity prevention and treatment.

    GoTrybe’s potential to be an effective online intervention doesn’t stop in the home, either.

Tennessee Health Commissioner Susan Cooper saw the health potential in GoTrybe’s technology as well, when she launched the program for 35 high schools in 17 Northeast Tennessee school districts as a means to meeting the 90-minute physical activity mandate as set by the State of Tennessee.

    “Providing innovative and creative approaches to achieve improved health and wellness is key to seeing positive progress in the health outcomes of our youth in the state,” said Cooper. “GoTrybeTN meets teens where they are and makes incorporating physical activity and good nutritional choices into their daily lives easier than ever.”

In recent years, Tennessee has found itself ranked among the worst states in terms of childhood obesity numbers. Because of the startling problem in this state, and across the nation, the government has started to play a major role in getting youth active. States like Tennessee have mandated physical activity minutes for students during school hours. They’ve even put specialists, called Coordinated School Health, into each Tennessee school district to help implement programs to meet their mandate.

    And the beauty of online programs, such as GoTrybe.com, is that memberships provide access for both school and home use, plus anywhere there’s Internet.

The United States Surgeon General’s call to action to prevent and decrease overweight and obesity says that our society has become very sedentary and that television, computer and video games contribute to children’s inactive lifestyles.

    No doubt, it’s time for a change.

But top-notch, professional information is available for children and parents, right here at their fingertips. So instead of demanding its removal, let’s encourage parents to make informed choices about the media their family consumes.

    Maybe it’s time to stop blaming technology and time to start letting these modern widgets make a positive change in the lives of today’s Internet generations.
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