Parental Concerns about Child Obesity Provide a Platform for Innovation

An Update on Exercise and its Influence on Toys; Second in a Series Exploring the 4E’s of 2009 Toy Trends

Pediatricians, parents, and policymakers alike are increasingly concerned about obesity among our nation’s children and its effect on their future health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over the past three decades the childhood obesity rate has more than doubled for preschool children aged 2-5 years and adolescents aged 12-19 years, and it has more than tripled for children aged 6-11 years. With concern about diabetes and other chronic, obesity-related diseases on the rise, toys which get sedentary kids up and moving are of great appeal.

Focus groups, input from pediatricians and parents, and other research has helped to inform toy makers about these health-related concerns.  “We know from market research that parents today want their kids to get more exercise,” explains Dr. Jim Gray, Director of Learning, LeapFrog Enterprises, Inc., “and we also know that kids learn and play in different ways. Some respond best to pictures and videos, others to sounds, and still others learn best when they are moving around, with multiple senses engaged.”

Dr. Kathleen Alfano, Senior Director, Child Research, Fisher-Price, concurred, "A child's cognitive development is integrally linked with movement. In addition to developing the body, physical activity strengthens key areas of the brain, making it easier to learn.

ImageToy makers are addressing parents' concerns about the lack of exercise in their children’s lives by introducing products with an incentive for them to be active. Reyne Rice, TIA’s toy trend specialist notes, “Many activity-driven toys have technology as a core component, appealing to kids who are digital natives.”

Such products include:

  • ­Smart Cycle Extreme, a stationary bike, learning center, and an arcade game system from Fisher–Price; 
  • Zippity Learning System, a TV-based product from LeapFrog that includes an interactive mat and tummy-high 'bopper,' which preschool kids use to interact with characters on screen as they work their way through musical activities such as letter and number recognition; 
  • ME2, from iToys, offers a child-size pedometer which tracks a child’s movements and earns them “energy points” redeemable for online game play and for purchases for their avatar.

First Lady Michelle Obama is even getting into the act, encouraging parents to serve as role models for their children in establishing healthy routines and making exercise a priority. On May 5th, she recorded a public service announcement with Elmo as part of Sesame Workshop’s Healthy Habits for Life campaign, which aims to teach children about the benefits of nutrition and exercise.