Originally published online by the Erie Times-News.

March 7, 2017

Digital recreation — via cellphone, tablet, computer or video game console — often ranks among the top factors contributing the nation’s growing ranks of overweight and obese children.

Children these days too often amuse themselves while sitting still, not by running, jumping or taking part in other physical activity, like bike riding or swimming. Add to the mix the abundance of fast food and fewer healthy meals being cooked at home and you have the ingredients for a dangerous health trend.

Capture-erietimes editorial image_mainAs detailed by Erie Times-News reporter David Bruce, gym class at Parker Middle School in Edinboro has gone high-tech.

The school in the General McLane School District has purchased devices that look like wrist watches. Students strap them on as class begins and the data — heart rate and calories burned — pours into a computer program that tracks each student’s individual progress.

Colored lights on the devices let the kids know how they are doing. The red zone signals not danger, but the optimal heart rate for better fitness. The goal is to keep the child’s heart rate in that zone, 80 percent of his or her maximum rate, for at least 20 minutes in each gym class.

“It pushes us. It’s like a challenge,” 13-year-old Ellen Cunningham told Bruce.

The school district spent $18,000 for its Interactive Health Technology program. The Erie School District is using similar technology in gym classes throughout its 18 schools, thanks to a $1.2 million federal grant. Pam Wiley, the district’s health and physical education facilitator, said the district’s devices can project data onto the wall to allow teachers to monitor each child’s effort in class.

Weight loss, especially for young people, is no exercise in vanity. Being overweight or obese places children at higher risk of developing serious, potentially life-threatening health problems later in life, including diabetes, heart disease, asthma, and cancer.

Pennsylvania has the 24th highest adult obesity rate in the U.S., according to The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America study released in September. That same month, the Highmark Foundation reported that the percentage of overweight and obese children in Erie County had increased slightly in 2015, reversing a trend toward improvement. Nearly 40 percent of children from pre-K to 12th grade had body mass index measurements above what is considered healthy.

The digital technology now being deployed in local gym classes not only gets children moving in a fun, new ways, but also hopefully instills in them lifelong habits that will reverse dangerous obesity trends for good.