Fun Kids' Fitness Programs

Could fitness technology help your child live healthier?

Kids doing box jumps in a fitness class
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Overweight children and teens who live in the San Francisco Bay area, and whose parents can afford a $3,000 (or higher) fee, have a good option for a kids' fitness program. It's called the Stanford Pediatric Weight Control program, based at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford, and it helps kids learn to manage their weight through diet and exercise. A linchpin of the program is the "traffic light" approach, which classifies foods into red light, yellow light, and green light categories.

As a young participant learns to boost green light foods and reduce red light foods in his diet, as well as add more physical activity to his routine, he can lose weight and achieve a lower BMI.

A version of the program is now available to families anywhere in the form of an app called Kurbo Health. It's licensed from Stanford and is free to use (although working with a coach comes with a cost).

So how does this kids' fitness and health program work? Kids use the app to track their food choices. They can also play educational games, answer questions (about topics such as portion size and nutrition labels), log their daily exercise, and watch how-to videos. If they work with a coach, they get customized help and support.

"With coaching, we give personalized suggestions about reducing red light foods; we would never ask kids to get rid of all their favorite foods," says Thea Runyan, a co-founder of Kurbo Health and a lead coach at the Stanford program for many years.

"We teach life tools, like budgeting those red light foods. But we are not asking kids to count calories—that is not safe." Instead, Kurbo tries to tap into kids' love of smartphone game play. So far, it's working. Kids involved in a beta test group lost weight, reduced BMI, and gained confidence.

School-Based Kids' Fitness Programs

Kurbo is designed for individual kids and their families.

But some schools are implementing fitness programs too. These can help the whole student body learn better and live healthier. Adventure to Fitness is a series of 20- to 30-minute videos (live action and animated) that prompt kids to move while they learn about health, nutrition, and school subjects including geography and vocabulary. It's used in over 20,000 elementary schools, but is also available for purchase and use at home.

Similarly, GoNoodle is a provider of video "brain breaks" for elementary-school classrooms. They're short—about 5 minutes each—and are meant to help channel kids' energy and focus their brains, much like a good recess period can do.

Play-Based Fitness Tech

While not necessarily made for kids, Goji Play is a tech toy that turns ho-hum fitness into a game. Use it with cardio equipment, such as a treadmill or stationary bike. When you use Goji Play's game controllers and activity sensor, you can play one of 20 games on its accompanying app while you walk, run, or pedal.

Most games are free and the faster you move as you work out, the better you'll do in the game. Read a review of Goji Play.

If your child wants to get in on the wearable tech trend, there are options for kids' fitness trackers made especially for them. These include Zamzee, GeoPalz, and LeapBand (new in fall 2014, and designed for 4- to 8-year-olds). All provide incentives and games driven by kids' physical activity. 

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