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News Link • Health and Physical Fitness

Virtual World Takes on Childhood Obesity

• http://www.technologyreview.com, By Mya Frazier
 Malica Astin, 11, never paid much attention to how much physical activity she got. But one day she played basketball while wearing a small activity tracker called a Zamzee on her waist. Later, she plugged it into a computer's USB port and uploaded the data captured by the device's accelerometers. Unlike a FitBit, a popular pedometer geared to adults, Malica's Zamzee didn't tell her how many steps she took or calories she burned. Instead, it gave her points for the movements she made.

Even months later, she recalls the details of that first windfall: 758 points. And why not? The points are a currency that she can spend in the virtual world of Zamzee.com, where she created an avatar and outfitted it with braces, a necklace, and a hula skirt.

Malica has since earned 3,612 "Zamz," and could eventually save enough to get real items like an iPod Nano (16,000 Zamz) or Wii console (18,000 Zamz). "At first, I didn't know what it was all about," she says. "Then I really started liking it."
 
Malica's experience illustrates the goals of Zamzee, a startup that is testing the notion that the addictiveness of games can be harnessed to solve a seemingly intractable social ill—in this case, childhood obesity. Rather than focusing on weight loss or diet, Zamzee hopes to reward movement of any kind in children 11 to 14, the ages when, according to research, physical activity drops precipitously.

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