Child's Play: Using Digital technologies to influence children's behaviours

Posted on: 16.03.2017 Tags:

Digital Health

eHealth Week

Do you remember growing up? Do you even reminisce about it? It is so rewarding when we look back and remember a happy and carefree childhood. And while for some of us being a child was full of running, jumping up and down and riding our bikes, children of today spend less and less time outside and use digital technologies as part of their game.

And there are many who support, and rightly so, that sedentary childhood (lower body challenges) accompanied with extreme audio-visual simulation delivered in a fast pace has all sorts of negative impacts on children’s basic skills. The results of this state, have been demonstrated as epidemics in the form of child obesity and diabetes (aided by the high carb, high sugar diets). Other diagnoses (possibly related to technology overuse) are autism, anxiety and sleep disorders, mild depression and loneliness.

Figure 1- Prevalence of overweight children [1]

All the above may sound gloomy but it is a common reality in many geographies around the globe, primarily in the more technology-exposed societies. This is, therefore, far from a coincidence.

It is not just a game

And this is the point where technology being so flexible, so versatile, so overpowering and effectively the ultimate expression of our intellect, creativity and imagination, can be used, in a way that it fights against itself, a weapon of mass destruction of all negative effects brought on by its unmonitored and excessive use.  A digital tale, a motivational digital game, even a simple score keeping ladder can sometimes be enough for slightly nudging a child’s behavior into the right track.

Figure 2- Children's change in sport participation [2]

Of course there are several smarter and highly imaginative solutions that can also be fun and more long term. For example, a smart wallet that monitors your child’s nutritional habits at school, can prevent, in the long run, the onset of diabetes, by limiting your child’s caloric and sugar intake while promoting an active lifestyle. A small competition among classmates on most steps taken, flights of stairs climbed or amount of exercise performed can have a huge impact on fitness levels, while at the same time limit the use of simple audio-visual interaction.

During eHealth week that will take place between 10-12th of May this year in Malta, clever ways to influence children, to nudge them into a healthier lifestyle, will be discussed. For it is the children that will become the citizens of tomorrow. We need healthy citizens and not patients in our future.

References

1.    IOM (Institute of Medicine). 2013. Educating the student body: Taking physical activity and physical education to school. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

2.   Sport for All, Play for Life, Aspen Institute

Kostas Giokas

Biomedical Engineering Laboratory Institute of Communications and Computer Systems

National Technical University of Athens