By CHRIS PERRELLI
A public relations specialist and author has turned a children’s book into a mobile app to promote a healthy lifestyle to today’s youth in North America.
Merilee Kern, author of the award winning children’s book Making Healthy Choices – A Story to Inspire Fit, Weight Wise Kids, has released an innovative app to promote a healthy lifestyle and raise awareness in the fight against childhood obesity.
The app features boys’ and girls’ versions of her book as well as many resources for parents, educators and caregivers. These include a discussion section with questions based on the story to assist parents or teachers discuss with the child the issues in the book. The app also includes an activity section with health-based activities for the child to complete, and a recipe section that provides ideas and tips for every day, on-the-go meals and snacks.
Kern views the app as an opportunity to get her message directly to children.
“What we found was that there were many resources regarding healthy lifestyles to help parents deal with their children, but there were very few resources that spoke directly to the child,” said Kern. “That’s what led to the book itself being written as a children’s book with an adolescent tone of voice. The way the app came about was just finding a way to get the book into the hands of today’s youth.”
The app is geared towards children ages four to 14. While Kern admits this is a broad age range, she feels that the app is versatile enough to be effective at all ages.
“It’s a broad age range but obviously for the younger children a parent, caregiver or educator will read the book to them. The discussion questions at the end can be modified so that they are age appropriate,” said Kern. “Depending on the approach it can be adapted for any age group within that range.”
Kern believes this app has a high potential in classrooms for health and physical education classes.
“We want to have this app in the classroom two bring dialogue and bring awareness to the students. We want to focus on the scholastic utility of the app,” said Kern. “My main focus at the moment is to make this app readily available as a lesson plan for a health or PE curriculum. I see this as a lesson where children can read the book, followed by the discussion questions that can facilitate in class discussions or debates to really get the kids talking and understanding different perspectives.”
Mark Leduc, principal at Quaker Road Public School in Welland, believes that this app could be a great addition to a program already moving forward with technology.
“Technology is engaging for kids,” said Leduc. “We have iPads and iPods for the kids. They use them for things such as nutrition and communication skills. We do a lot of great work with apps in those classes.”
Leduc believes “a lot of it [the success of the app] would be dependant on making these apps readily available for all kids.”
“In terms of students all having access, not all kids have iPhones or iPads. However, if it’s something that a teacher can put up on a Smartboard through the iPad and work through it with kids that way, absolutely it could be successful.”
Kern is already in the inaugural stages of getting this app into the classroom.
“We’ve had early-stage discussions with a number of schools and it’s going really well. It’s in the evaluation process now where they have downloaded the app and distributed it to their health and fitness programs,” said Kern. “They’re having their internal conversation about it but all of the feedback that I have received has been positive so I’m optimistic.”
When presented with the app, Leduc was impressed with the underlying benefits.
“When you look at it through a discussion perspective, that actually integrates your literacy program with your health program. It could be a read-aloud, it could be independent reading followed by the discussion questions. It gets the kids inferring about dilemmas around healthy eating,” said Leduc. “It’s a great literacy activity, as well as problem solving among other topics while still promoting a healthy lifestyle.”
Kern added that the book and app raise awareness against bullying children who are overweight. She believes it allows the “opportunity to make kids more empathetic towards kids dealing with a weight issue.”
Although the app is already a big hit, so big it garnered praise on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show “Oprah and Friends”, Kern has a vision for the future.
“As far as features go, if the app does well in the marketplace I’d like to get an Android version out. I also have this vision of pairing up with national brands to offer coupons via the app to parents to use for their children. That’s a little bit down the line but definitely part of my vision.”
The app is available on iTunes for $2.99. For educational institutions, volume purchases of 20 or more can receive a 50 per cent discount.