Social Innovation: Using Online Gaming to Beat Childhood Obesity

There is growing interest in using the addictive, entertainment value of gaming to promote the social innovation of better health to both children and adults in the U.S. Up until now, computer gaming has been blamed for contributing to the childhood obesity epidemic in America, with about one out of three children overweight or obese. The thinking now is how can we use games for good. It is a conundrum that the not-for- profit, Hopelab wants to solve.

Hopelab has created a social innovation game called Zamzee, which motivates children to be active. It works by an accelerometer being clipped to a young person’s jeans that monitors their moderate to vigorous activity. They then load the data from the device through a USB port to a computer, which shows how much activity has been undertaken since their last login. Participants can compare how they are doing with others and works on an accumulated lifetime points system. Zamzee tries to instil behavioural changes in children by rewarding exercise and teaching healthy habits. It blends the real world with an online experience.

Zamzee is created by Pam Omidyar, a visionary at Hopelab. Omidyar first used video gaming to help young cancer patients and created the 2005 social innovation game Re-Mission, where a heroine travels through the bodies of fictional patients to destroy cancer cells. The video game helped young patients continue with their treatments and improved their cancer knowledge, according to a study published in the journal Paediatrics. Fred Dillon, director of product development at Hopelab/Zamzee, says, "It is obvious kids really like games. Is there a way to take things that kids are already doing and power them for good and health?.”

The idea behind Zamzee is to get the kids moving and is due to for launch this autumn 2012. Health researchers want to reach kids and ‘tweens’ helping them form healthier habits. However, competition for their attention is fierce; as most youngsters would rather sit in front of computers playing games. Most health games seem to fail when they resemble a lecture; so the answer is to strike a balance between entertainment and pedagogy (the science of education, which may be implemented in practice as a personal and holistic approach of socialising and upbringing children and young people).

A survey released this May by the health care company UnitedHealth Group found that adult consumers want to incorporate gaming into their health routines. Nearly 75% of the 1,015 adults surveyed said video games should encourage physical activity and should be games where you become so involved in the game itself, that you becoming fitter without realizing it. That seems almost too be good to be true, but then that’s where the reality of gaming becomes real.

Photo Credit: Hopelab Main Website