Is a fit band for kids an atrocity, or just a necessary evil in 2014?

LeapFrog LeapBand

The device that best defines the style of consumer electronics in 2014 won’t be released by Apple or Samsung. It’s not branded by Google or Microsoft, or born in a Silicon Valley incubator by some exciting new hardware startup like Oculus or Pebble. It was announced last week by LeapFrog, the Bay Area-based educational toy maker, which builds those little green tablets and talking pens aimed at teaching kids a thing or two through the use of technology. It’s not the most innovative or most exciting product that will be released this year, and it almost certainly won’t be the best selling, but damned if it doesn’t serve as a handily little statement about technology – and humanity – in 2014. 

The LeapBand is a $40 fitness tracker for kids, a Tamogochi-esque virtual pet that lives on a child’s wrist offering them to get off the couch. The device’s name, I’d like to point out right up front, is one small vowel removed from Lap-Band, an invasive gastrointestinal surgery in which an inflatable silicone loop is fit around the top bit of a morbidly obese person’s stomach to slow their food consumption. An example sentence for context: “If you don’t give your kids a LeapBand now, it’ll mean a Lap-Band later.” 

“If you don’t give your kids a LeapBand now, it’ll mean a Lap-Band later.”

On the face of it, the whole thing seems absurd: It’s a product that entices children to go out and play — something once regarded as, arguably, the fundamental experience of being a young human. But don’t stomp on LeapFrog; it’s a good company with noble mission of using the allure of technology to better the lives of kids. While that most often entails education, this latest product fits in quite nicely — it’s just, frankly, a bit of a bummer that it has to exist in the first place. 

Studies on the subject place the average amount of time 8- to 18-year-olds spend in front of screens at around eight hours a day, versus the recommended two-hour maximum. Naturally, as the ubiquity and dependency on devices only increases, the amount of time between any manner of physical exertion will continue to grow. 

The exponential popularity increase of wearable fitness trackers like the FitBit and the Jawbone Up are an attempt to fight fire with fire. As technology makes us more sedentary, be it from sitting in front screens all day, or simply carting us around instead of walking, it makes sense that we’d attempt to use even more technology to reverse such trends. For plenty of users, FitBit and its ilk have provided an opportunity to do that, providing incentive to get up a little early to head to the gym before work — or even something so simple as walking a few extra blocks at lunch. 

But these technologies make sense for more than just office workers at this point. According to the Centers for Disease Control, over the past 30 years, obesity has double in kids and quadrupled in adolescents. Quadrupled. As of 2012, nearly 18 percent of kids in the United States can be classified as obese. The CDC’s site has a pretty solid breakdown of where childhood obesity can lead, if you’re interested in such things. If you’d rather not read about the lingering threat of osteoarthritis, however, just take my word that it’s not good.

LeapFrog LeapBand

When it first arrived in 2006, Nintendo’s Wii was seen as a sort of saving grace: a video-game system that actively engaged children in physical activity rather than planting them on the couch. That success was later replicated by Microsoft with the Kinect and Sony with the PlayStation Move, bringing gesture-based gaming to another level. But while beneficial, a 15-minute daily session of Wii Bowling was never going to be enough to cure the obesity epidemic, particularly as motion control failed to become the sustained gaming revolution that some predicted. 

All of which is to say, as absurd a product as it may seem at first blush, the LeapFrog LeapBand is truly a product for our time, a device that gamifies physical activity, making real-world play fun for children by partially digitizing it. It’s enough to make anyone over the age of 18 want to shake their first in the air and curse “kids today,” but in 2014, such a product seems to be a strange and necessary evil. Hell, it means I’ll never have to type the word “osteoarthritis” again, I’ll take it.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Emerging Tech

The world’s most accurate clock will lose just one second every 14 billion years

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in in Boulder, Colorado, have built an atomic clock capable of telling the time with an astonishing 18 digits of precision.
Home Theater

OLED or LED? We pick the winner in the battle of competing TV tech

The acronyms OLED and LED sound and look very similar, but the two technologies are vastly different in terms of engineering, performance, and capabilities. Which technology wins when you pit OLED versus LED in a TV?
Home Theater

Here’s how Apple’s HomePod can hear you across that noisy room

Apple published a report about the hearing technology inside its HomePod speaker, illuminating in great detail all the hardware and software that lets it hear you say, "Hey Siri" across a noisy room.
Deals

The 11 best computer reading glasses for eye strain

Eye strain, headaches, and dry eyes are all side effects of too much exposure to blue light and screen glare. Get yourself a pair of computer reading glasses to help relieve the discomfort.
Deals

Cyber Monday extended: Best Cyber Week Deals on the Apple Watch

Cyber Monday deals are rolling in, and the most popular savings of 2018 are on Apple Watches. Save up to $80 on brand new Apple Watch Series 3 before the holidays. We've rounded up the best deals from Apple, Target, and Best Buy.
Deals

Cyber Monday Extended: Best Cyber Week Smartwatch Deals

Cyber Monday is known for its awesome online sales. Smartwatches, fitness trackers .. they both will see deep discounts. Now is your chance to score a new wearable at rock bottom prices.
Emerging Tech

Breakthrough male contraceptive gel is nearly ready for the bedroom

A new male contraceptive gel is absorbed through the skin, and promises to temporarily reduce sperm count in order to avoid pregnancy. Here's how you can get involved with a clinical trial.
Emerging Tech

Keep your holiday gift list high-tech and low-budget with these gadgets

Modern technology doesn't always come cheap, but there plenty of premium devices that don't carry a premium price. Whether you're looking for a streaming device or a means of capturing photos from above, our list of the best tech under $50…
Deals

Still have money in your Flexible Spending Account? Head to the FSA online store

Don’t panic if you still have money sitting in your FSA and no doctor's appointments on the horizon. The FSA store has plenty of cool, useful gizmos you’ll want to purchase for your home and your health.
Emerging Tech

Wearable device spots signs of an opioid overdose, automatically calls for help

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University have developed a wearable device that’s capable of detecting an opioid overdose and sending out an alert to medical personnel. Here's how it works.
Emerging Tech

First baby born using a womb transplanted from a deceased donor

In a world first, doctors have confirmed the birth of a healthy baby girl in Brazil using a womb transplanted from a deceased donor. Here's why that's so potentially transformative.
Emerging Tech

This implant goes beyond pacemakers, helps aging hearts beat more vigorously

The FDA's advisory committee has voted to recommend an innovative pacemaker-style gadget be approved in the U.S. The Optimizer Smart Implantable Pulse Generator boosts performance, strength, and pumping ability of weakened heart chambers.
Outdoors

Forget pumps. This innovative filter purifies H2O in 8 seconds flat

The Grayl Geopress water purification system removes more than 99 percent of all bacteria, cysts, and viruses from water in just eight seconds, providing clean drinking water to travelers and outdoor adventurers.
Outdoors

Built to take a beating and still perform, these are the best hiking watches

A proper hiking watch should track exercise metrics and act as a navigational co-pilot during any kind of hike. Ideally, it'll even have a built-in GPS system and sensors. Here are five of the best hiking watches.