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Get Your Kids Moving With Help From Technology

Living in an increasingly technological world, more and more kids and teens are living predominantly sedentary lives glued to computers, video games, tv, and cell phones. But it’s this same technology that one Silicone Valley company is using to motivate kids and teens to get off the couch and get moving.  Zamzee is an online platform for kids and teens, where points are awarded based on their daily activity levels. The Zamzee activity meter tracks and measures a child’s physical activity level throughout the day, which can then be uploaded online for points that can be used towards gift cards from top retailers and other prizes.

We talked with the director of marketing and communications, Richard Tate, to learn more about Zamzee and how it works.

Can you tell us more about Zamzee’s mission?

Zamzee’s mission is to get tweens and families to be more physically active.  Studies show that the physical activity of kids drops precipitously between the ages of 9 and 15.  Our goal is to stop that drop-off and to help make physical activity a part of daily life.

Where did the original concept come from?

The original concept for Zamzee is a mashup of concepts from HopeLab’s Ruckus Nation idea competition and an internal project called gDitty.  Once the idea was formed, Hopelab began rigorous research, refining key details of the experience (this work was supported in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation).  Over 350 participants, across six separate studies, recorded 10,000 days of user activity – all in an effort to maximize engagement and increase physical activity.  The research showed that, on average, Zamzee boosted activity in kids by more than 30% - that’s equivalent to nearly an extra marathon a month of running!

Once Hopelab knew that Zamzee had real impact, they began to explore different ways to make sure Zamzee reached as many kids as possible.  In 2010, Hopelab chose to launch Zamzee as an independent social enterprise with the goal of creating a sustainable business that delivers on Zamzee’s social mission to get kids and families moving more.  Initial funding for Zamzee has been provided by Hopelab, and Zamzee is seeking additional partners to support our work.

Can you tell us more about what Zamzee is and how it is used?

The Zamzee experience has two main parts – the Zamzee meter and our website at zamzee.com

The Zamzee meter is specifically designed to measure the start-and-stop physical activity of kids, tweens and teens.  You can clip your Zamzee to your pants or belt or just wear it in your pocket.  It’s about the size of a pack of gum and weighs less than one ounce.  After a day of moving around, you plug your Zamzee into your computer and upload your activity data. 

The second part of the experience is at zamzee.com.  We have worked hard through the development process to devise a site that motivates users to keep moving.  This is where all that movement turns into points – and its points that power the online experience.  You can track your progress on the activity graph, level up and earn badges, check yourself out on the leaderboard and turn your physical activity into rewards you choose from the Zamzee shops, like gift cards or even an XBox.  Once you’ve purchased a Zamzee meter ($29.95), the experience at zamzee.com is free, but there are optional ways for parents to put money into their kids’ accounts that will enable their kids to earn prizes more quickly. 

What are some of the largest obstacles you see in getting kids and teens off the couch and moving more?

Many changes in our culture today have restricted the amount of physical activity kids get to experience in a day.  More kids drive or take the bus to school than in the past, PE classes have been cut dramatically from school’s budgets, and many kids live in neighborhoods where unsupervised outdoor play is just not an option. Michelle Obama, through Let’s Move!, speaks to many of the trends in the last 30 years that have led to alarming rates of sedentary behavior and obesity in our young people.  

Kids are also increasingly raised with technology as a source of entertainment and social connection.  Zamzee uses this engagement with technology as a force for good – technology that gets kids and families up and moving and enjoying physical activity as part of their daily lives.

What are some of Zamzee’s fun features that helps get kids moving?

The Zamzee website is filled with safe and social features that keep tweens and teens engaged and moving.  An activity graph displays your progress by day, week, or even by minute.  Best of all, Zamzee rewards you for improving as well as moving – you get bonus points if you beat your average activity level each day.  You also can decorate your avatar, level up, and earn badges for all sorts of accomplishments, like connecting and uploading activity data several days in a row. 

One of our most popular features is Whamz – this is like a kid-friendly version of tweeting.  Users combine fun activities with ridiculous scenarios from different drop down menus to brag about how they earn their Pointz – like Playing Soccer with Zombies, or Frisbee in the Clouds. 

Users can also take one of our free challenges that ask kids to move a certain amount in a set amount of time (i.e. earn 20 points in 15 minutes) – and if they succeed they earn Zamz.  Zamz is our online currency you use to buy rewards. 

Finally, through challenges, kids can turn all of their movement into rewards.  Our Zamzee Shops are filled with a wide range of popular items that tweens and teens love.  We have gift cards from top fashion brands, popular video game titles, and even top-tier consumer electronics, like iPod Nanos, Xboxes or Nintendo Wii.  

Since its creation, what kind of statistics do you have on Zamzee’s effectiveness?

Tweens have spent over 10,000 days testing and helping to design Zamzee. The results?  Zamzee users move +30% more than non-Zamzee users!  As mentioned, that's the same as an extra marathon per month!  There are already about 5,000 registered Zamzee users.  Zamzee is also in pilot programs in schools and community centers in Atlanta, Chicago, Honolulu, and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Why are tools like Zamzee, and other gamification technologies, effective in improving people’s health?

Tools that employ gaming techniques have shown to be great ways to get and to keep users engaged.  It’s exciting to see this innovation channeled towards positive change, such as increasing physical activity in tweens and teens.    

What’s next for Zamzee?

Zamzee is currently in beta, and we plan to officially launch this fall.  In addition, Hopelab, which also partners with Zamzee in ongoing research, will be announcing preliminary research findings of a six-month impact study on the impact of Zamzee in physical activity and kids’ health.

To learn more about Zamzee and to purchase Zamzee activity meters for your family, please visit Zamzee.com.

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