Most of us know by now that 2 out of 3 adults in the US are overweight or obese. Alarmingly, that figure is 1 out of 3 among children. On the positive side, we’ve reached a stage where technology is transitioning from being the problem (e.g. TV, cars, prepackaged foods) to being the solution (e.g. activity monitors, mHealth, exercise video games). (For a more thorough discussion of this transition, read this author’s NEJM Bicentennial essay).
Medgadget covers a number of innovative tools that may improve healthy lifestyle behaviors, from an augmented reality diet to a device that can monitor vegetable consumption. Most of these tools, such as the Fitbit or Withings weight scale, have been targeted towards adults. An activity monitor called the Zamzee is a new kid (pun intended) on the block that focuses on getting children and teens more active, and the company making it just announced on Monday some impressive results to show that it actually works:
The randomized, controlled study evaluated the effects of Zamzee, developed by HopeLab, in a diverse sample of 448 middle-school-aged adolescents enrolled from urban, suburban and rural environments across the U.S. Half of the study participants used Zamzee, an activity meter that measures movement using a three-axis accelerometer and uploads physical activity data to a motivational game-based website. The website allows kids to view their activity levels, earn points for movement, achieve goals, and select rewards. The other half of study participants in the control group received a Zamzee activity meter that uploaded physical activity data but had no access to the motivational website.
In the study, kids using the Zamzee activity meter and website showed an average increase in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) of 59% – or approximately 45 additional minutes of MVPA per week – compared to the control group. This impact persisted throughout the six-month study period. Significant increases in physical activity were seen across a number of key groups at risk for sedentary behavior, including a 27% increase in MVPA among overweight participants (BMI >25) and a 103% increase in MVPA among girls.
In addition, study data also showed that Zamzee had a positive effect on key biological factors associated with diseases linked to sedentary behavior. Over six months, participants who used Zamzee showed reduced gains in LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, which is a risk factor for heart disease. Participants who consistently used Zamzee also showed improved blood sugar control (HbA1c), a risk factor for type 2 diabetes.
Medgadget had the opportunity to interview Lance Henderson, the CEO of Zamzee, about their product, its advantages and disadvantages, and where he sees it going.
Shiv Gaglani, Medgadget: Where did the idea for Zamzee come from?
Lance Henderson, CEO of Zamzee: Zamzee was born at HopeLab, a nonprofit dedicated to using technology to improve the health and life of young people with chronic illnesses. Given the enourmous problems caused by sedentary behavior in America, HopeLab decided that the best way to effect the biggest change on this crisis was by making Zamzee a social enterprise.
Medgadget: How does the Zamzee work?
Henderson: Zamzee uses a tri-axis accelerometer to track activity, and a website that make exercise fun. For more about the research that designed Zamzee, you can read this blog post.
Medgadget: What are the advantages of using Zamzee as opposed to another pedometer? Are there disadvantages?
Henderson: Zamzee uses an accelerometer technology, which tracks the intensity of your activity, not just the number of steps you take (which is what a pedometer records). Integral to using Zamzee is also the online experience – which was designed to get kids excited about physical activity and to make being active fun. The website is an integral component to the Zamzee experience, and it uniquely incorporates gamification to make exercise fun in a way more stereotypical pedometers or activity monitors do not. For example, on the Zamzee website kids can take challenges and earn prizes – this is very different from, say, counting calories or working towards a weight loss goal. It is more fun. Of course, the disadvantage here is that if counting calories is your primary interest, Zamzee is not the solution for you as we do not track or quantify that information.
Medgadget: What trends in medical technology most excite you? What do you see as the future of Zamzee?
Henderson: The development of ubiquitous and lower cost mobile technologies, like Zamzee and smartphones, are changing the way that healthcare and consumers interact. It enables us to deliver on our goal to “lead with fun and health will follow.” Since Zamzee’s goal is to reverse the epidemic of sedentary behavior among kids in the U.S., taking advantage of mobile technologies as they develop will certainly be key to our future.
This author was also sent a review copy of the Zamzee, and was impressed at how light, inexpensive ($29.95), inconspicuous (that is, unless you add a skin to it for personalization), and easy it is to use. Any kid who regularly uses his or her computer will be able to use the Zamzee, though the key question is which kids will be most likely to use it. Given that at this stage activity monitors for adults seem to primarily be used by people who were already fit to begin with, we hope that Zamzee pulls in all types of children and facilitates a large scale behavior shift away from sedentary lifestyles. For more information about the Zamzee and how it works, check out the video below.
More from Zamzee: Study Shows Technology Gets Kids Moving 59% More