It’s a problem that has perplexed moms and dads for generations: How to get kids to eat their vegetables. Parents know their children need a balanced diet, but for whatever reason, kids can’t seem to agree.
Omaha moms Deb Gray and Tammy Olson think they have a solution both kids and parents will love.
The two have written a book that blends a superhero story with multicolored bracelets to reward kids for healthy behavior. “Alex Chan and His Balanced Body Bands” aims to make healthy lifestyles fun for elementary-aged children. Kids track their healthy behavior with “body bands” bracelets, and if they keep it up for 21 days, they earn a special reward from participating local businesses.
“We’re just two moms trying to see what we can do,” Gray said.
Inspiration for the product came from home. Both mothers struggled with motivating their children to pick apple slices over French fries or play catch instead of a computer game. “They would love to watch TV and video games, sit around and be couch potatoes,” said Olson, who has two children ages 7 and 9.
Both Gray and Olson also knew that these unhealthy behaviors could have consequences over time. Gray, a long-time personal trainer, has watched obesity rates soar despite an increase in public awareness about the importance of healthy eating and exercise. Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children ages 6 to 11 and quadrupled in adolescents ages 12 to 19 in the past 30 years, the Centers for Disease Control reported. In 2012, more than a third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.
Gray thought to use bands – a popular kids item already – as a tool to encourage healthy behaviors. Children start with 21 bands on one arm, color-coded for vegetables, fruit, exercise, good deeds and more. When the child eats a piece of fruit, for example, that band moves to the other arm. Once all of the bands have been moved that day, the child gets a sticker for his superhero shield. After 21 stickers, the shield is complete and the child gets a special reward.
“Anytime you can make something fun and interactive – and not have guilt over anything and be positive with it – that’s where you see the true change,” Gray said.
Olson backed the system with a superhero story to excite kids. In the book, characters Rylee and Logan, who are named after Olson and Gray’s oldest kids, sneak into the kitchen for a midnight sugar binge. Upset stomachs quickly follow, but luckily superhero Alex Chan and his body bands arrive to save the day. Chan shows the kids how to follow in his footsteps so that they, too, can get healthy and be strong enough to thwart foes like the Lazy Monster.
Olson, a former therapist who has worked with children, said the series of short-term, medium-term and longer-term rewards are an effective way to create changes in kids’ behavior. “Anything that has to do with rewarding kids is huge,” she said.
The rewards also put the kids in control. They get to make the choices that will help move bands. “I think the key is getting the kids invested where they are the ones saying they want to do it,” Olson said.
So far, Gray and Olson said feedback from parents has been extraordinarily positive. Mothers have told them how their kids are asking for fruits and vegetables so they can move their bands. At a pizza restaurant, one mother was surprised to see her child opt for the salad bar. Another mother reported that her daughter tried her first vegetable only after she got the bands.
“Now she can’t wait to go to the grocery store because she gets to try different colors and foods, “ Olson said.
Parents of bands-wearing children have also reported making more healthful choices, Olson said. Using the bands with her own children forced her to stock healthier items from the grocery store.
“Now I know my daughter doesn’t want the Pringles, so I have to make sure I have packs of carrots, cucumbers, and broccoli,” she said.
Gray and Olson are currently talking to local researchers about future studies that could measure how much the product affects kids’ choices. If the body bands prove to be as effective as Gray and Olson believe, they hope to expand the bands to schools and organizations. Currently, parents can purchase the bands on their website, balancedbodybands.com, and on Amazon.
In the future, the two moms see the bands concept stretching to other behaviors, whether completing chores or being kind. Plus, the mothers’ younger children, Delaney and Skylar, are eager for their own literary fame in the next book.
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