The chance to earn modest rewards may help get kids moving

Memphis, TN, February 12, 2018

Carrie Howell, PhD

Carrie Howell, PhD, pictured with the game that incentivized exercise for pediatric cancer survivors.  

An online “game” that rewards players for physical activity may help motivate young cancer survivors to be more active. That’s vital, since they are more likely than their peers to be overweight and physically inactive. That combo threatens their health and wellbeing.

Ninety-seven St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital cancer survivors took part in a six-month pilot study. Everyone in the study received activity monitors and education about physical activity.

Average weekly exercise rose slightly for those who could earn stickers, T-shirts, gift cards and other rewards by increasing their activity levels. Those survivors reported a better quality of life. They also showed small gains in fitness and cognition.

But physical activity decreased among those who had no chance to earn rewards.

“The survivors in this study were 11 to 14 years old. That’s a key age to develop good health habits,” said Carrie Howell, PhD, of St. Jude Epidemiology and Cancer Control. “We know from past research that adolescent survivors need to increase their physical activity when they come out of treatment.

“We were looking for engaging and creative ways to motivate them to do something to get their heart rates up. Based on these early results, we may have found an approach,” she said. Howell discussed the findings at the Cancer Survivorship Symposium in Orlando, Fla.

St. Jude researchers are now testing the approach in a larger national study. It involves children and adolescents who have completed treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Read more about the study.

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