UNICEF Kid Power: Saving Lives One Step at a Time

Laurie Scudder, DNP, NP


June 24, 2016

Editor's Note:
The United Nations Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) is well recognized for its role in meeting the needs of children and their families worldwide who are affected by poverty, war, and natural disasters. Now, the US Fund for UNICEF is aiming to help solve global malnutrition by getting children in the United States to be active—because 1 in 4 children in the United States is inactive, and 1 in 4 children globally is malnourished.

Figure 1. The UNICEF Kid Power band.

In 2014, the US Fund for UNICEF launched UNICEF Kid Power. This initiative provides kids with a wearable activity tracker (the UNICEF Kid Power band), and an accompanying app and online materials allow kids to be active while earning points that translate into delivery of therapeutic food packets to severely malnourished children around the world. Medscape spoke with Caryl Stern, president and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, about the program and the ways in which pediatric clinicians in the United States can incorporate it into their practices.

Medscape: Can you provide a quick tutorial about Kid Power and how it works? What do you want US healthcare providers to know about the program?

Figure 2. Caryl Stern, President & Chief Executive Officer, US Fund for UNICEF.
Portrait by Timothy Greenfield.

Ms Stern: UNICEF Kid Power helps address two polar opposite, but important and potentially life-threatening, health concerns in kids: inactivity and malnutrition. One in 4 kids in the United States is inactive, whereas 1 in 4 children globally is malnourished.

At its most basic, the UNICEF Kid Power band is a wearable device that monitors steps—like many devices used by adults—and accumulates points as kids take steps and get active throughout the day. Kids go on missions to learn about new cultures as they earn points. Points unlock funding from partners, parents, and fans, and funds are used by UNICEF to deliver lifesaving packets of therapeutic food to severely malnourished children around the world. The more kids move, the more points they earn and the more lives they save.

The app that accompanies the device is the "secret sauce" that educates children—both individual children and children in schools—about the needs of children in developing countries and converts the points earned into impact by unlocking the therapeutic food packets. Children become part of UNICEF's mission to put children first by saving the lives of other children.

UNICEF Kid Power incorporates many child-friendly features—a Star Wars logo on two cobranded Star Wars: Force for Change bands, flashing lights and vibrations every time a child walks approximately 2400 steps, and encouragement from celebrities and athletes on the app.

Medscape: What is the evidence that the UNICEF Kid Power band actually encourages kids to be more active?

Ms Stern: Currently, our evaluation data are based on kids in participating schools, and not results from individual children. During the 2014/2015 school year, we commissioned an independent evaluation of children in participating schools in Boston, Dallas, New York, and Sacramento. The Sacramento evaluation found that students engaged in Kid Power were 55% more active than their peers. A second evaluation of schools in Boston, Dallas, and New York produced similar results. That evaluation also showed a 30% increase in the number of days in which students met their daily requirements for physical activity. Not only were kids participating in UNICEF Kid Power more active than their peers, but in aggregate, these children earned enough Kid Power points to unlock 188,850 therapeutic food packets—enough to save the lives of 1259 children.

A reasonable question to ask is: What component of Kid Power leads to this increase in activity? Is it the Star Wars logo on the device, or the "buzz" generated by the band each time a child walks 2400 steps, or some other as-yet-unidentified piece?

When we started the program, we knew that we wanted to motivate and celebrate kids' activity. There are little icons and "passport stamps" that children earn with completed missions. We've created competitions between classes and between schools, even between cities, though not between individual children. So schools can calculate the steps taken and see how Mrs Smith's class compared with Mr Brown's class. And we've had athletes and local teams help recognize active classrooms.

Recognition can a big motivator. But we believe that beyond rewards and cheers, kids' motivation to get active comes down to their intrinsic desire to help other kids around the world.


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