Forty-seven percent of Gen Z are predicted to be obese by the time they reach adulthood. Poor diets and population-wide decreases in exercise have led to an epidemic of childhood obesity in America, which sets kids on the road to a poor quality of life and shortened life expectancy. The solution? Technology.
Number of steps collectively taken by sweatcoin users
Digital gaming will meet kids where their interests lie, and both augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technology will at last bring meaningful amounts of physical movement into the digital fun, getting kids out of their chairs with little coercion. The behavior-driving insights that social media platforms initially employed to co-opt addiction mechanisms in kids’ brains will increasingly be used for good, building healthy workout habits into kids’ daily routines.
AR and VR Join PE for Fitness
Physical education and recess will include AR and VR options for students of all ages, creating the right environment for entirely new sports and recreational activities. Jungle gyms have been replaced by smartphones and online games, but AR games will move kids back to the jungle gyms to collect their points or digital rewards. Instead of being forced to play soccer for three weeks in gym class, students will be able to select from a number of AR and VR games which can be collaborative and made for children and young adults of all interests, abilities and passions. A focus on fitness doesn’t end after the final bell—PE class will assign personalized fitness milestones outside of class and the data will link back both to the kids’ school and to their doctors.
Report: The Future of Youth Sports
10 in-depth topics from recruiting to brain development to esports.
We take a deep look at the best and worst-case scenarios for the future of youth sports as parents, coaches, futurists, industry experts—and former youth athletes.
Celebrities + Tech = Workouts
Boutique personal training algorithms connected to phones or AR glasses will arrive to nudge and encourage kids toward healthier behaviors. Digital exercise platforms will build personalized shout-outs from famous athletes into their reward offerings, and celebrities will conduct simultaneous live workouts that millions of kids can follow along with wherever they are in the world. The days of star-driven workouts—Suzanne Somers, Jane Fonda, Victoria Principal and Richard Simmons, for example, back in the halcyon days of VHS—will explode again in popularity, but this time with motion-captured action stars and athletes leading the way in virtual space. Streaming giants like Netflix or Disney+ will include live AR/VR youth fitness packages to entice parents to keep the services.
Virtual Pets Bring Real Health Benefits
AI-based virtual pets, like actual pets, will encourage kids to go for walks and runs outside—perhaps even requiring trips to the beach or fitness goals for the health of the virtual pet. The multibillion dollar viral phenomenon of Pokémon Go, in 2016, made it clear that people—especially kids—will run, walk and travel for digital rewards. Because such rewards can be instant and personalized and they cost nothing, they work for all age ranges. The self-care given to digital avatars seems illogical at first: people spend more care on the health of their Sims character than their own body; people walk more steps in Minecraft than in real life. But this can be exploited for the sake of health by rewarding and training young people with digital and social rewards that teach good habits, much as logic games can teach solid reasoning skills.
Healthy Avatars on our Shoulders
Collectively, the gathering of fitness and biometric data throughout development will drive a revolution in personalized longitudinal health, as doctors will be able to quickly scan an adult patient’s history of exercise all the way back to a young age. A recent study from Stanford showed that avatars can influence real-world behavior—“fitness” or “doctor” avatars embedded into phones and apps mean that many if not all children will grow up with an expert nutritionist on their shoulder, at all times, which can alternately track calories, heart rate, blood pressure, sleep and daily routine. National parks and gyms will all get into the game, literally, by encouraging the reversal of one of the worst epidemics in modern health—the sedentary lifestyle.
The Future Is Already Here Dep’t
In 2018, Robert Long, who needed to lose weight in order to have back surgery, bought a VR headset and began a daily regimen that entailed playing the game Beat Saber. Long shared the saga of his 138-pound weight loss on Reddit, spawning a new workout genre.
The augmented exercise movement got a boost from COVID-19, with the remote-exercise-coaching platform Peloton doubling membership and tripling revenues in 2020. Apple took notice, announcing its own fitness stats-and-content platform, Fitness+, to compete with Peloton. Another indicator: Lululemon’s $500 million purchase of Mirror, an AI-powered in-home personal training platform. With entire families living, learning, working and working out at home during the coronavirus crisis, look for innovations like these to follow kids back to their in-school fitness programs when the pandemic subsides.
Meanwhile, outdoors, Strava, the cycling and running app that lets users compete asynchronously to post the best times on GPS-marked routes, crossed the 50-million-user mark in early 2020 and logged its three billionth activity upload. And in an indoor-to-outdoor crossover, EA Sports, Google and adidas launched the GMR platform in March 2020. The system uses a computing device embedded in the insole of a shoe to translate athletes’ real-world soccer moves into new skill points for their in-game avatars in FIFA Mobile, incentivizing players to get off the couch and lace up outside in order to level up on the digital field of play.
In 2020, the average age at which a child received their first mobile device was 12 years old. Today in 2035, it’s age five, as smartphones, activity trackers, tablets and other mobile devices finally became widely accessible tools for good. Pre-K schools and daycare programs have incorporated responsible technology usage into children’s routines. Every child has access to AR glasses for use during structured and unstructured activity time to recommend fitness activities, hone motor and cognitive skills and increase hand–eye coordination. This has yielded huge long-term health increases all through adulthood, as data allowed families, educators and kids to track and continuously improve individual exercise and develop good habits. Generation Alpha became the healthiest ever, having grown up with accurate performance and nutritional data, and youth sports participation is soaring, as mixed-reality experiences connect kids to real-world sports.
AR/VR did make the turn toward exercise, but only for the well-to-do. Instead of creating activities for all, the tech/exercise industry followed the lead of Peloton and Mirror, producing expensive equipment along with high-priced subscriptions. Kids from lower income households stayed on the couch and plugged into stationary gaming consoles, dropping out of youth sports in droves and falling behind in both athletics and health. The increasing disparity created a negative feedback loop, accelerating the opportunity gap between wealthy and poor and further destabilizing society.
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