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An Ounce of Prevention – Too Heavy a Lift?

A blog by Zamzee’s CEO, Lance Henderson 

I recently heard from a woman named Cyndi who is working hard to keep her family healthy. Cyndi has struggled with her weight, and now two of her daughters do as well. In fact, Cyndi’s girls were both recommended by their pediatrician to attend a wellness camp designed to teach healthy eating habits and help overweight kids become more active. Research shows that a lack of physical activity puts Cyndi’s daughters at risk for a range of serious health problems, and Cyndi felt ashamed. She has committed herself to changing her family’s health habits, but change is hard. And the healthcare system Cyndi and millions of Americans look to for support is largely focused on treating illnesses, not preventing them.  

Fortunately, as part of the camp experience, Cyndi and her daughters were asked to try an innovative program that combines a motivational website with an activity tracker to get kids moving more. According to Cyndi, the effect was transformative. The program was fun for the kids, taking advantage of the power and appeal of technology to encourage healthy behavior, and it was something they could use at home. Cyndi saw a significant positive change in her daughters’ level of physical activity as a result. 

Unfortunately, this success story for Cyndi and her kids highlights an insidious paradox in our healthcare system: the lack of funding for tools to prevent, not just treat, illness. Providing the new prevention tool to kids and families at the wellness camp Cyndi and her girls attended required philanthropic support. Insurance wouldn’t cover it, and the hospital running the camp had limited resources to support new, innovative programs on an ongoing basis. Had Cyndi’s daughters become obese, her pediatrician could have easily prescribed an expensive bariatric surgery (at a cost of $25,000 or more), but there is no routine, sustainable mechanism for low-cost prevention programs to be prescribed and reimbursed by a health plan. I see this as a deeply troubling problem within our healthcare system – a “prevention paradox.”

The economics of prevention vs. treatment are complex. Comparing the cost of treating one individual to the cost of providing a prevention tool to many is overly simplistic. But it’s time to confront the fact that we need to establish pathways that allow prevention tools to be recommended, prescribed and paid for as routinely as pills and surgeries. As a result of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the expansion of Medicaid enrollment, new populations are entering the health system, often with higher prevalence of chronic disease driven by sedentary behavior and obesity. This is a ticking time bomb for our healthcare system, one that threatens the foundation of healthcare finance and the health of the next generation. Prioritizing prevention at an early age can help address lifelong chronic conditions like diabetes, obesity and heart disease, with positive results for quality of life and healthcare costs. ZZ_2

The good news is that providing access to practical prevention tools is more achievable than ever before. With the proliferation of new sensor technologies, mobile care delivery tools, and the changes catalyzed by the ACA, the calculus between prevention and treatment may finally begin to shift. Critical for this to succeed, however, will be a deeper and broader body of evidence that proves the efficacy of prevention tools.

Demonstrable impact on health outcomes and costs are key. As one example, the hospital running the camp that Cyndi and her girls attended chose to experiment with Zamzee, the tech-based physical activity program, in part because a randomized controlled study, sponsored by HopeLab and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, demonstrated that the motivational online experience and activity tracker got kids moving 59% more than a control group. This is promising research, but healthcare providers and payers need more data to make the bottom-line decisions that drive healthcare spending. Cross-sector partnerships are needed to help build and disseminate trusted evidence so that the leap of faith seemingly required for prevention spending becomes a rational investment in our health—and an effective strategy for reducing the cost of healthcare for current and future generations.

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Ultimately, providing prevention tools to large populations can be sustainable only if they are fully integrated into health systems—and that means operational and financial integration, not reliance on the generosity of philanthropists and small pockets of innovation within the healthcare industry.

Cyndi and her daughters represent millions of kids and families struggling to be healthy against great odds. We face unprecedented challenges to our health and healthcare system, and if we are to meet these challenges, we need evidence-based tools that we can put into the hands of consumers that inspire and maintain active, healthy lifestyles. Building evidence and changing the payment landscape to make these tools widely available is the work that lies ahead. And each of us—healthcare providers and payers, public policy makers, parents and caring citizens—can play a role in creating a system of healthcare that makes sense for the long-term. Let’s start by focusing on prevention and investing in the health of our kids.

Lance_Henderson_HeadLance Henderson

Lance is Chief Executive Officer of Zamzee, a research-proven product and program that motivates kids and families to be more physically active. Prior to joining Zamzee, Lance served as Vice President, Program and Impact at the Skoll Foundation, where he led an international grant-making and investment program supporting social entrepreneurs. He has extensive experience in finance, fundraising, and executive leadership roles with organizations focused on health and behavior change, including the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and Pangaea Global AIDS Foundation.

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Using Technology to Get Kids Active

Technology is a big part of kids’ lives these days, from the classroom to playtime. But the digital revolution hasn’t yet become mainstream in kids’ sports and exercise. Especially for kids who don’t like moving, you have to wonder: could there be a better way to use technology to inspire kids to get active?

Right now, youth exercise is pretty closely correlated with traditional youth sports teams. That makes sense because, in the United States, 75% of boys and 69% of girls play organized sports. But what about those other kids, the 25% of boys and 31% of girls who don’t participate in sports teams? Right now, we don’t have many good options to cater to these kids and get them moving. Moreover, even if a kid participates in sports when they are younger, they don’t always stick with the team when they get older. This video by the Women’s Sports Foundation makes a compelling and scary case for why girls, in particular, keep leaving the game.

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5 Ways Zamzee Gets Your Kids off the Couch

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Does your son like videogames more than shooting hoops outside? And maybe your daughter would rather chat with friends than practice soccer. Or vice versa. That’s okay. Many kids don’t enjoy participating on competitive sports teams. But research shows that kids who are more physically active enjoy better social, emotional and physical health – whether or not they’re “on the team.”

Here are 5 ways Zamzee makes exercise fun for kids who don’t love sports.

1.  Zamzee lets kids earn rewards for moving. And any movement that gets your heart racing counts – dancing, skate boarding, playing tag with friends –  even if you’re not a star athlete or a jock. On zamzee.com kids get to pick rewards to work towards, like gift cards or popular toys. This incentive makes it easier for kids to overcome the initial hurdle to get their bodies moving. Receiving a package in the mail from Zamzee for accomplishing a movement goal is motivating and fun.

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Why Zamzee Focuses on Getting Kids Active (it’s about more than obesity)

Zamzee is a game that gets kids moving: our goal is to fight sedentary behavior by making physical activity more fun for kids. But you might be curious about why Zamzee doesn’t focus on weight or BMI, or help families count calories. That’s a really good question, which we’ve thought a lot about. Here’s why we’ve chosen to focus on physical activity, not just obesity.

Over and over again, new research shows that being physically active is one of the best things you can do for your health – both now, and as a preventative for your future well-being. We know that physical inactivity is bad for you. But did you know that physical inactivity causes 6-10% of all deaths caused by heart disease, type 2 diabetes, breast and colon cancer?1 Yep, it’s the truth. The World Health Organization says that physical inactivity is the fourth leading risk factor for death, and The Lancet attributes physical inactivity to 5.3 million deaths per year globally.2 And we all know that physical inactivity can be a contributing factor to obesity. Continue reading

New Research Shows Zamzee Increases Physical Activity by Almost 60%

If this girl had a Zamzee, she’d be the one doing pushups, and she’d probably look as tired as that girl does after scrubbing floors for three hours!

Lots of people ask us if Zamzee really works. This week, we received strong validation of Zamzee’s ability to make real change in getting kids moving. HopeLab and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released new research from a six-month scientific study of Zamzee amongst middle school students across America.[1] The results? Zamzee increased physical activity in kids by 59% and reduced biological risk factors associated with heart disease and diabetes.

Let’s explain this exciting news in a little more detail, shall we?

First off, you probably want to know more about the study. HopeLab gave Zamzee activity meters to 448 middle school kids enrolled in the study from  urban, suburban and rural schools across the U.S. Half of the study participants (the control group) just had a Zamzee meter to track their physical activity, but they didn’t have access to the motivational website. The other half of the study participants had a Zamzee meter AND access to the motivational website.[2] Bet you can guess which group had more fun!

After six months of kids moving around with Zamzee, the final Point was earned, the last upload was completed, and HopeLab crunched the numbers. And the results? The group that had access to the Zamzee website moved a whopping 59% more than the control group – which is approximately an extra 45 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week. Hold your horses, everyone, it gets even more exciting! Kids who were really at risk for sedentary behavior got moving, too. Overweight participants (BMI >25) increased their activity by 27%, and girls increased their activity by 103%! Zamzee is really working for these kids. Continue reading

Using Technology to Modernize Physical Education (P.E.)

By Cindy Sisson Hensley, Co-Founder of ConnectTIVTY[1]

Using Zamzee to connect P.E. with technology and rewards

At the forefront of physical education today are discussions of swapping old gym standards like dodgeball and kickball for games that incorporate technology. Using technology in P.E. may seem counterintuitive to old-timers, but today’s youth engage more with physical games that utilize technology. And if the objective of P.E. is to help students develop a lifelong affinity for physical activity, than using innovative, motion-centric technology is one strong tool in P.E. teacher’s toolboxes that shouldn’t be overlooked.

“Typically, there is so much focus [in P.E.] on star athletes and the sports they play,” said Artie Kamiya, National P.E. Institute co-chair. “A new chapter in the battle against childhood obesity has begun by helping P.E. teachers activate all of their students with a wider variety of games, sports and exercises that can be continued through life.”

The national childhood obesity epidemic has forced experts to rethink how P.E. has been taught in the past. Today’s kids think sports are boring – 84 percent say they sometimes wish they had more fun when playing youth sports. Not surprisingly, 42 percent say they’d rather play video games than sports, and when asked why, 74 percent said video gaming is more fun.[2] Continue reading