Sneaker chips track grade-schoolers’ movement, health

Step It Up, a pilot program currently in motion at the Emily A. Fifield and Oliver Wendell Holmes elementary schools in Dorchester, is encouraging grade schoolers to get moving and get healthy.
Students and teachers wear a sneaker chip that continually tracks the number of steps they take. Designated computers upload the data when participants walk by them. A weekly report is generated for each participant and for the school as a whole, detailing the number of total steps taken, the weekly step average and nutritional tips.

With sedentary forms of entertainment adversely affecting children, the pilot aims to increase their activity levels and fight childhood obesity. Obesity at any age can lead to medical conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. Even mental health is affected; depression is common in both children and adults who are overweight.

Joe Kvedar, MD, is the founder and Director of the Partners HealthCare Center for Connected Health and has been practicing medicine for 27 years.

In Kvedar’s opinion, the program is just what the doctor ordered.

“The core of it [is] being active and then bonding together as a team and competing,” Kvedar says.
“Those are things we’ve been doing for centuries. In some ways, this is applying new technology to an old tradition.”

Step It Up is a collaboration of the Center for Connected Health, DotWell and the Dorchester Family School Initiative in addition to the Fifield and Holmes schools.

“I think that it could foster a really nice collaboration between the schools in Boston,” Fifield teacher Elizabeth Reynolds Lupo says.

Fifield students have physical education class for 60 minutes once a week and 20 minutes of recess daily. Before Reynolds Lupo’s arrival in September, there was no physical education class. When the 16-week pilot began on March 9th, she noticed an immediate change.

“It’s going fantastically,” she told the Reporter. “The children are really engaged, the teachers are really engaged and the competitive aspect seems to really be keeping their interest.”

Several students of Holmes third-grade teacher Jen Gillingham were “glued” to the TV and computer - they and fellow classmates have become much more physically active in the past month. Students proudly report that they swept the kitchen floor, walked to the convenience store and played in the park for a little while longer to add more steps to their day. Excitement is obvious on Fridays when they receive their weekly reports.

“It’s become more than just in the classroom. [The students are] bringing home all of this information, too,” says Gillingham, who is training for her first Boston Marathon. “It’s been a big thing.”

Since healthy eating habits and regular exercise are natural preventive measures, people maintain better overall health and do not seek care for obesity-related issues, decreasing health care costs.

Matt Fishman, Vice President for Community Health for Partners HealthCare, says that physically active students become successful learners, a goal shared by schools and pilot creators.

“If people are healthier, they’re able to carry on with the activities that are meaningful to them in their lives and to reach their goals.”