This article was published on April 16, 2011

Tackling obesity, the digital native way

Tackling obesity, the digital native way
Claire Field
Story by

Claire Field

Claire Field has been writing for the web since 1999. She is currently the Social Media Manager for UNICEF UK, based in London. You can foll Claire Field has been writing for the web since 1999. She is currently the Social Media Manager for UNICEF UK, based in London. You can follow her on Twitter @ellefie and read her personal blog.

Quite often when it comes to obesity the emphasis is on losing weight rather than becoming healthy, rather than an emphasis on being healthy and having good self-esteem. And for children, it can be particularly difficult to get this latter message across using traditional methods.

Considering children’s status as digital natives, this is where technology can be utilised. Southern California’s Stuart Karten Design (SKD) has devised a concept project called DownWithDenim that embraces social networking, mobile technology and augmented reality. The idea is that it could help children to develop positive self-esteem by working towards a healthy lifestyle, encouraged by five components that blend the offline with the online. By mixing how they receive support, their network and level of encouragement is widened, hopefully making it easier for children to achieve a healthy BMI goal.

Here are the five components SKD believes will help make this concept work:

The Jeans

  • Used as the ‘status’ item, overweight participants are given a pair of jeans in the size below their current size. Those children with an already healthy BMI are still given a pair of jeans as the aim is to teach all children to maintain a healthy lifestyle, not just overweight ones.

The Truck

  • A mobile truck will visit schools and neighbourhoods, staffed with a stylist and a dietician to encourage children to take part in the programme. The truck contains a “magic mirror” that shows them what they would like if they were a size smaller. This image is sent to participants electronically as a motivation tool.

The Website

  • Using an online community, participants can gain online support to complement the support from the offline trucks. The idea is that they would create a profile, recording their food and exercise, as well as supporting and being supported by their peers.

The Mobile App

  • Participants would use a location-based service to point them in the right direction of a healthy food venue when out and about, as well as suggesting what foods they should order from the menus.

The Coaches and Trainers

  • Using weekly virtual meetings to enhance the other support mechanisms, web chats or text messages with professionals make sure the participants are not at risk from taking their health kick to a dangerous level.

Any concept that combines the online and offline is likely to be a success because it understands the way the world works and the upsurge in people using the Internet on the go. But, there is the potential downfall that children may not want to join an online community as they could fear being targeted by their peers if they admit they are overweight. In the UK though, Facebook and Thames Valley police are tackling online bullying which means that cyber-bullying could become less of a problem in the future. This is probably the biggest challenge to overcome in this idea.

DownWithDenim is still a concept idea, and these issues will probably be ironed out as the “digital native way” evolves further with society. Until partnerships are found to implement this idea, it won’t be known if this concept can translate into the ‘real’ world. If it does, it will show that technology can be used for good and that it can fit in with all our (healthy) lifestyles.

Get the TNW newsletter

Get the most important tech news in your inbox each week.