Nearly one in five Americans between the ages of 2 and 19 are considered obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). One of the major contributors to the high rate of childhood obesity is lack of physical activity among young people. While the CDC recommends that children and adolescents age 6 years and older get 60 minutes or more of physical activity each day, only about one in five children get an hour of moderate to vigorous exercise just five days a week.
One culprit behind kids’ lack of physical activity is too much time spent looking at a screen, including the screens of mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. However, while time spent staring at screens has traditionally been blamed for the plummeting rates of exercise among children, new initiatives are using the lure of the screen to motivate kids to get active.
One recent effort is the limited-release NERF ENERGY Game Kit, which melds a mobile game that can be played on a smartphone or tablet with real world activity. While early “exergames” such as the popular Dance Dance Revolution incorporated physical movement directly into the game, the Game Kits combine exercise done outside of the game with gameplay. The Game Kit is made up of a wearable activity tracker, a foam soccer ball and a downloadable mobile game called NERF ENERGY RUSH.
In the mobile game, kids use an avatar to run through an increasingly complex virtual obstacle course, dodging hazards, avoiding falls and collecting various valuable objects during their run. In many ways, NERF ENERGY RUSH has a lot in common with similar “endless runner” games that have been a major part of the gaming scene since back in the days of Super Mario Bros.
However, where NERF ENERGY RUSH differs is how it incorporates the energy tracker kids wear in the real world into the world of the mobile game. The wearable tracker monitors how much physical activity a child gets during the day and then converts the activity into “energy points.”
The more exercise a child gets, the more energy points they earn. These energy points can then be used in NERF ENERGY RUSH to power up your avatar and extend the playing time you get in the mobile game. More exercise means more points, and more points means more screen time—something kids today covet.
Research suggests the decision to tie the promise of more screen time to a child’s physical activity is a smart one. Mobile games have demonstrated great success in motivating gamers to engage in a number of behaviors so they can keep playing. In the case of the NERF ENERGY Game Kit, the behavior is exercise.
In an attempt to get kids moving, UnitedHealthcare has collaborated with Hasbro, the maker of the game, to custom-order and donate 10,000 Game Kits to young people nationwide, including to schools and Boys & Girls Clubs.
For their part, Boys & Girls Clubs are eager to incorporate the limited-release game into their wider efforts to get kids active. “The game is a wonderful complement to our programming that emphasizes healthy living, good nutrition and regular physical activity,” said Penney Ainsworth, president/CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Mississippi, one of the first clubs to receive the kits. “By using this new game, we will help young people in our community develop healthy habits and learn that exercise can be fun.”
Although the game is not currently available in stores, the rollout of the Game Kits to local clubs means that kids throughout America will soon be in a unique position to show that screen time and exercise time can work together to promote better health.