The proportion of American children who are overweight or obese, which has climbed steadily for years, surged to unprecedented levels during the pandemic, according to new figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Now, Sheba Medical Center has launched a smartphone gaming-based program to help overweight and obese children achieve a healthier lifestyle.

Headed by Professor Gal Dubnov-Raz, director of sports and exercise medicine at Sheba, together with the Telemedicine team at Sheba’s ARC Innovation Center, the program was developed in collaboration with UVTAL, creator of Rumble, a popular active movement gaming app that plans to launch in North America by the end of 2021.

It combines remote monitoring and professional health-care support by the medical staff alongside an engaging platform for children and youth aged 10 and up, who learn to adopt healthy habits through positive psychology, competition and games.

“Obesity is the most common chronic disease among children around the world, including in Israel. The COVID-19 pandemic, which forced children to remain in their homes—and kept them from outdoor exercise opportunities for weeks at a time, only exacerbated the problem,” said Dubnov-Raz. “Now, especially in these challenging times requiring social distancing for health safety, technology like the Rumble app can be harnessed to support medical teams while also increasing the amount of physical activity among children, which is so critical to their and our future.”

To motivate children to be healthier and more active, the app runs in concert with a smartwatch that monitors their sleep, heart rate and physical activity. The more they perform actions that promote a healthy lifestyle, the more digital “health coins” they win.

Coins are earned through daily step accumulation, participation in training, reading and watching healthy lifestyle content, and answering customized questionnaires. With their earned coins, they can purchase healthy lifestyle-related prizes such as exercise equipment.

As part of the smartphone gaming-based program to address childhood obesity and physical health, the more kids perform actions that promote a healthy lifestyle, the more digital “health coins” they win. Credit: Sheba Medical Center.

In addition, each child can see how active they are compared to their peers within a closed group of the clinic’s patients, fostering healthy social competition and a desire to succeed.

“UVTAL creates a variety of technological solutions based on incentives from the fields of behavioral economics which are tailored to the needs of every organization, company or health-care provider,” said Alon Silberberg, CEO of UVTAL Health.

Throughout their participation in the program, children are accompanied by a team of experts from Sheba Medical Center’s Pediatric Sports and Healthy Lifestyle Clinic. A pediatrician and sports medicine specialist, a pediatric and sports nutritionist, a child exercise physiologist and a sports psychologist collaborate to monitor, counsel and encourage the children.

“This technology has a huge advantage in that it solves a problem that conventional medicine doesn’t always have the tools to address,” explained Iris Shtein, co-director of the Telemedicine Innovation Hub at ARC Innovation at Sheba Medical Center. “The incorporation of gamification has proven to keep kids connected and engaged for a much longer time. The success of this cooperation has the potential to reach the international arena and make a global impact of not just children and youth, but of people everywhere.”

“The key to the program’s success is that it’s fun,” said Dubnov-Raz. “The medical staff and the technology are the building blocks, but the Rumble app brings the fun element, which is ultimately what keeps the children active and healthy.”

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