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Why parents need to pay attention to children now more than ever, writes Dr Mosima Mabunda, Head of Wellness at Discovery Vitality

I had a really interesting workout the other day, involving my kids and balloon volleyball. Our family is competitive, so it was good fun. Importantly, we got our heartrates going as we tried not to drop that balloon.

This game comes from my sons’ Vitality Active Rewards for Kids challenge for the week. It asks them to complete a fun health-related activity to earn their weekly Discovery Miles. Their other activity for the week is to add legumes such as beans or lentils to a meal twice. There are also digital wellness, dental hygiene and the all‑important sleep challenges for young people.

With another uncertain year ahead, I appreciate this light but impactful moment for the kids, who I know from behavioural science, need structure, rewards and motivation to do their best. As a medical doctor, I know that small actions like these are ultimately what is within our control to stay healthy and support our immunity during a pandemic.

Where our kids are right now

  • Globally, according to the World Health Organization, 38 million children under the age of five years old and 340 million children and adolescents aged 5-19 years are overweight or obese, with these figures set to increase in the coming years.
  • In South Africa, it is estimated that 10% of girls (twice global statistics) and 8% of boys (1.6 times global statistics) are obese.

Right now, children are faced with environments that encourage the consumption of energy‑dense foods that are high in fat and sugar but have low nutritional value. This is in addition to decreased physical activity levels and excessive screen time.

These behaviours likely worsened during the national lockdown when children spent more time indoors and couldn’t access sport or outdoor activities. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has added concerns beyond physical health – the mental health of children and adolescents were also affected.

We know the positive impact healthy lifestyle behaviours have on overall wellbeing, and while the current reality is concerning, there is plenty that can be done.

What we can do about it

The family environment is at the core of children’s wellbeing and healthy development. Children rely on parents and the other caregivers in their lives to protect and care for them. Sometimes, we need a reminder that parents help children build and enhance their knowledge and skills, especially in a new way of work and life. Parents plot a path for their children’s health and wellbeing that extends well beyond childhood. So, we need to lead by example and get those games on, but also look at other key areas.

Now more than ever, ensuring that our children are healthy and are raised in a safe and supportive environment is an essential responsibility of parents, schools and society. While we cannot make healthy choices for our children, we can lead by example and give them the knowledge and tools they need to succeed.

From simple hygiene and behavioural change (learning to wear masks has been a recent change) to modelling healthy eating and being physically active, parents play a significant role in influencing their children’s health‑protective behaviours. This goes beyond the basic. We as parents need to be proactive in creating wellness for ourselves and definitely for the younger generation.

These are Vitality’s solutions

We’re tackling key areas; healthy eating, physical activity, dental care and sleep hygiene, and other crucial activities like digital awareness.

How Vitality implements these solutions

Vitality Active Rewards has long been at the centre of Vitality’s leading, science‑based behavioural change programme for its millions of members globally. We’ve now made it easier than ever before for families to get healthier and rewarded together. Vitality Active Rewards for Kids and Teens is a direct response to the current reality. We aim to partner with parents to equip children with the skills they need to build a strong foundation for a healthy future.

Our app‑based incentive programme applies behavioural science to empower parents and caregivers to encourage and support their children to engage in health‑promoting activities. These range from a simple game to get everyone moving or a reminder to read a book, to eating less salt for the week or successfully negotiating screen time. The best part is that kids and teens get to enjoy their own rewards for doing so.

How to make a lasting impact

For younger kids aged 2 to 13 years old, parents can create a profile for each of their children by activating family goals on the main member’s Vitality Active Rewards profile. Parents and kids can choose challenges to complete, and kids can then redeem their Discovery Miles on exciting rewards – from gaming and books to stationery and even charitable efforts through Vitality Move to Give.

Teens aged 14 to 17 years have access to the existing Vitality Active Rewards platform which exists as a smartphone app, with parental consent. The teen first downloads the Discovery app on their own device and creates their own profile. They’re then encouraged to increase their activity level by being given personalised and progressive weekly physical activity ‘points’ targets.

We’ve engaged with Be In Touch, a practical digital parenting tool that helps with Family Digital Wellness. This can help equip parents with the tools to protect their children from digital hazards, including bullying, challenging content and more. Check out their online resources for practical guides, resources, and products to help parents and children improve their digital wellbeing.

But this all works well because of incentives, those nudges to do better and get rewarded. The Teens rewards partners like Steam, Typo, Kauai, Cotton On, Sony PlayStation and more will encourage teenagers to work hard for their rewards and Discovery Miles.

Family bonds have been crucial to successfully navigating the uncertainties and lifestyle changes that the COVID‑19 pandemic has brought with it.

Vitality is enthusiastic about providing young and old Vitality members with the opportunity to grow these bonds by having members jointly engage in a goal‑oriented, fun and rewarding healthy activity. DM


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