Obesity research takes high-tech twist at Florida school

Sun Sep 28, 2014 7:22am EDT
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By Letitia Stein

ST. PETERSBURG Fla. (Reuters) - Freshmen at Florida's Lakewood High School lined up against gold and black gymnasium mats on Friday to have their height and weight measured, an assessment to launch a novel study on fighting teenage obesity with trendy new technology.

Researchers affiliated with Johns Hopkins Medicine, whose network includes a Florida children's hospital near the school, plan to use results of the screening to select about 50 overweight students and track their activity levels using the Fitbit, a connected wristband.

Wearable technology, expected to take off next year when Apple Inc introduces its health-oriented Apple Watch, has shown mixed promise in research. Yet medical literature has little to say about the effectiveness in adolescents, whose obesity rates have quadrupled in the last 30 years, with nearly one in five now being obese, according the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"It's cool. You can wear it and it measures your activity," said Dr. Raquel Hernandez, lead researcher and an assistant professor of pediatrics at John Hopkins Medical School, who works at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida.

"It also can help the student know what they really are doing," she added.

Students will synch their wristbands to MyFitnessPal, an app that can also track their daily diet. Researchers are using Fitbit tracking to examine sleep patterns as well.

When a youngster's activity level drops, researchers can send a cell phone text or Twitter message, with real-time tips on a healthy excursion or snack.

Funded by a $100,000 grant from the philanthropic arm of insurer Florida Blue, the school-based program eliminates the need to talk teenagers into trekking to the doctor's office.   Continued...