Wearable tech is changing the way Americans do fitness. Millions of us are tracking the number of steps we take, the amount of sleep we get, our water intake and daily calories burned through wristbands, clip-ons and watches synced to an app on our phones. Through data, we're setting and tracking goals—or sometimes seeing for the first time just how sedentary we really are.
With national concern about childhood obesity and fitness levels in kids, thanks to first lady Michelle Obama's relentless and nearly eight-year-long campaign to find ways to encourage kids to live healthier lives, companies are eyeing children as the next big market for wearables.
Adidas is first in line.
The athletic goods company wants to outfit school classrooms with its Zone system, standardized heart-rate trackers worn on the wrist. Unlike most other wearables, the Zone system pieces only track heart rates—not steps or miles walked or steps taken or hours of sleep. What they do is indicate the level of activity through a color-coded light system on the wristband and also register the information on the teacher's laptop. So teachers will know whether who's not jumping rope vigorously enough, and know who might need to slow down to a jog.
The pieces aren't cheap at $139 each, which is about double the entry-level Fitbit price, which doesn't track heart rate but does track number of steps taken, calories burned and miles covered. Tech Crunch ran the numbers and for a 28-kid class (which is, sadly, on the smaller size for an American public school classroom), that's nearly $4,000 from the PE budget.
Data security is a concern as well, and something the company says it's taking seriously. Meanwhile, the vision is to integrate the health information gathered from the pieces into kids' records. The backend software will allow teachers to easily track push-ups, sit-ups and other fitness requirements for each student, and log improvement (or lack thereof) over time.
As with any case when a private company is offering a solutions that brings them profit from public money, schools would be best to proceed with caution. The initial startup cost is $4,000, the wristbands would get quite a bit of kid-level use and, as we all know, tech develops toward planned obsolescence. So how often would these need to be replaced, what will the necessary upgrades to the software be and how much would that cost over time?
The real question is whether investment in technology is the answer to children's health and fitness, or if the necessary investment is in playing hard outdoors, with balls, bats and time away from technology.