Using an Idea Prize to Spur an Invention to Increase Physical Activity

Dates of Project: August 1, 2007–March 31, 2012

Field of Work: Prize competitions for games to address childhood obesity

Problem Synopsis: Youth tend to become less physically active in middle school, which increases their risk for obesity.

Synopsis of the Work: HopeLab Foundation, Redwood City, Calif., hosted an idea prize competition and then built an interactive, digital product to spur physical activity in middle school students, particularly those youth who are most likely to become obese.

"This is an exciting and possibly a game-changing intervention, particularly for the highest risk children—those in lower-income families or who live in neighborhoods that do not facilitate physical activity. These additional steps to earn Zamzee rewards could be obtained by jumping on the bed," said C. Tracy Orleans, PhD, senior program officer and senior scientist at RWJF.

Key Results

HopeLab Foundation collected 429 entries from 37 countries and 41 states for an online prize competition called Ruckus Nation. The entries were ideas for digital products designed to encourage physical activity in middle school-aged youth. Inspired by the competition, HopeLab then developed a commercial product, Zamzee, comprised of a wearable activity meter and rewards website.

Ruckus Nation, an online idea competition, "was really an effort to cast our net as broadly as possible for potential solutions," said Steve W. Cole, PhD, vice president of research and development at HopeLab.

Key Findings

Middle school-aged youth who used Zamzee increased their level of physical activity by an average of 59 percent—the equivalent of running nearly three-fourths of a mile per day.

"We looked around the world of health risks," said Steve W. Cole, PhD, vice president of research and development at HopeLab. "And we asked, 'Where else is there a great need for effective interventions in which the power of play may be both distinctly untapped and have a plausible impact on the disease process itself in terms of literal physical health outcomes?'"

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The Zamzee game—a wearable activity meter and rewards website—increases physical activity in middle school-aged youth by 59 percent.