Editor's Note: Thea Runyan, MPH, is a health educator and behavioral coach specializing in weight loss programs for obese and overweight children. I asked Runyan to share her views as she has spent over a decade developing both online and offline weight loss programs for kids. Runyan has developed a coaching app, which is based on principles she learned as a health educator, but she hasn't used federal funding.
Earlier this week, presidential candidate Jeb Bush described a game that teaches children about healthy eating as a waste of "scarce [federal] resources." The game, called “Mommio” is being developed with a $2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.
I disagree with this assessment. In my fifteen years as a behavioral coach and health educator, I've seen a lot of inefficiency and waste. But I believe technology represents an opportunity to help us teach children healthy eating habits.
I applaud the government in supporting an initiative that is relevant, may be used by families, and is relatively cost-effective compared with the millions upon millions of dollars in grant money spent on childhood obesity initiatives across the country. Many of these programs are poorly coordinated (if at all), unmeasured and cannot be implemented at scale. And that's without counting the long-term medical costs linked to childhood obesity, which include Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
According to the CDC, the percentage of young children, aged 6 to 11, who are obese in the U.S. increased from 7 percent in 1980 to nearly 18 percent in 2012. And in 2012, fully one-third of all children and adolescents were overweight or obese.