Fighting obesity with technology
July 31, 2012
New iPad project to help parents
Story by Tara Grindle
When it comes to childhood obesity, much research has been done around the negative impact television, computers, video games and mobile technology are having on activity levels.
Now researchers with Alberta Health Services and the University of Alberta are embracing technology as a way to fight obesity.
A new pilot project will engage parents through the use of iPads to learn more about supporting a healthy lifestyle for their child. While waiting for their doctor’s appointment, parents visiting clinics in the Edmonton Oliver Primary Care Network will have the opportunity to take a 10- to 15-minute survey. If parents consent, their child’s weight and height will be entered into the iPad application to provide customized feedback.
“This is such an exciting project because it’s real-life research,” says Dr. Geoff Ball, AHS director of the Pediatric Centre for Weight and Health at the Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton and researcher at the University of Alberta.
“This program is very family focused; we can meet parents where they’re at and empower them to make change.”
Dr. Ball and his team of researchers and decision-makers from AHS, Alberta Health and the University of Alberta recently became co-recipients of a Partnership for Health Systems Improvement (PHSI) grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions worth $440,000, which will be used to build the iPad application and develop ways to measure the effectiveness of the tool.
Over the next year, the application will be developed in consultation with health professionals and families, and the survey will be introduced in the fall of 2013. In total, the reasearch team hopes to engage 100-150 families over the course of the study.
Ball hopes parents will find the iPad feedback objective and non-judgmental, making them comfortable to talk about their child’s weight with their health-care team.
“It’s an easier segue into the conversation and puts the onus on the parents to talk about it and identify healthy weight as a priority. We hope the feedback from the iPad app provides insight they didn’t have before,” says Ball.
The project is aimed at reaching families whose children may be slightly overweight but not obese to provide early interventions. Avoiding the need for more intensive and aggressive therapies will mean better outcomes for children and their families.
Initial work will focus on gathering input on what would be helpful to parents, how it should be presented and what other technology can be used.
Ball says the project fits nicely within the overall AHS Obesity Initiative.
“We’re not going to reinvent the wheel with this app, but rather link families to the network of resources for promoting healthy lifestyles that already exist,” he says.
The grant is specifically designed to have researchers and decision-makers working side by side to improve the health system. Ball is the principal researcher and the AHS provincial chronic disease program will provide leadership from the health administration perspective.
Also playing a key role in the research is the Edmonton Oliver Primary Care Network, which supports downtown Edmonton with 85 family physicians, five pediatricians and a team of health-care professionals.