K. Bissell, K. Baker

University of Alabama (UNITED STATES)
Obesity is a central public health issue facing the nation, particularly in regard to younger generations. Attitudes toward eating and exercise that children develop in their early years are likely stay with them for the remainder of their lives. Furthermore, many children in the United States are at risk for becoming overweight or obese simply because their current lifestyle of unhealthy eating combined with a lack of exercise puts them at risk for this chronic health disease. It is imperative that multiple and varying remedies and preventions for childhood obesity be developed. The advent and proliferation of technologies available for children in classrooms and at home provide ideal opportunities to integrate awareness of food intake into children’s everyday routines. Because children spend a good portion of their developmental years in classrooms, the following study presents findings from a health intervention program designed to be implemented at school that addressed attitudes and behaviors relating to food intake and exercise. The present study utilizes two different new media technologies—the Apple iPad and the Wii gaming system—to teach children how they can become more proactive with regard to their own health. The present study was designed to help children who might already be overweight or obese, help children who are at risk for becoming so, and further educate them all on health behaviors now will affect their long-term health. This is an exploratory study in that there is no existing data examining the effectiveness of a similar iPad app because no other app, to our knowledge, exists. The purpose of the second part of the health intervention program is to see if Active Video Games can be used to increase children’s actual and perceived heart rate as well as increase overall enjoyment in physical activity.

Findings from the two parts of the intervention program suggest that health behaviors and attitudes toward healthy eating and exercise were higher and improved across demographic groups and across the grade levels. Results indicate that the app enabled children to have more precision in recording the foods they ate, and children, across the board, expressed great appeal for the app, which was developed to look like a game. Additionally, healthy foods were more likely to be reported at breakfast—perhaps because of in-school breakfasts that the majority of the students consumed. With regard to the effectiveness of the Wii gaming system, findings from the present study were consistent with previous research in that all three Wii games examined significantly increased children’s heart rate from the point of rest. Another bigger picture trend was related to the awareness of the food children were eating. When checking boxes on a survey, it might be easy to not have larger understanding of how much (or how little) food was consumed during each meal. However, when the food items show up on a plate in a visual form, the quantity of food started to resonate with the children. This suggests greater exploration into the food access for all children, but especially lower income children who may get most of their meals from school and from take-home snacks provided by the school. These and other findings are discussed.