Unique Health Program Appeals to Digital Kids

By Christina Elston

Health Kurbo Bice Family

Mom Milena Bice, front and center, after a run with her 5-year-old son Diego, at left, husband Jon, 9-year-old son Pablo, center, and 8-year-old son Jackson and dog Charly. The family has been working with a coach via Kurbo to make healthier choices. PHOTO COURTESY MILENA BICE

Milena Bice’s 5-year-old son Diego was at an L.A.-area grocery store with his grandmother recently, and she wasn’t sure whether the breakfast cereal he wanted was a healthy choice. “Read me the first three ingredients,” Diego said. When one of them was sugar, he told his grandma, “Oh, that’s a red-light food. You can put it back.”

The Bice family has been learning healthy-eating and exercise strategies using Kurbo, an online tool designed to help children make good choices and achieve a healthier weight.

The program was created by Joanna Strober, bestselling author of the parenting book “Getting to 50/50” (Bantam, 2009), whose own son was struggling to lose weight. Kurbo is based on strategies used in the well-regarded Pediatric Weight Management Center at Stanford University, and a couple of the staffers work with or have worked with the Stanford program. Two facets make Kurbo unique:

  • It allows children and their families to work with “coaches” who answer their questions and offer tips and advice about healthy eating and exercise. This relieves parents of the job of being “the food police.”
  • Children and parents access the program using a tablet or smartphone app (it’s now available for iPhone and Android), and work with their coaches via text message, phone or Skype.

KurboScreenshot3 (2)Bice’s oldest son, 9-year-old Pablo, was her reason for seeking out Kurbo. At Pablo’s checkup in July, his pediatrician noticed that he had gained 30 pounds during the previous year and that his weight was putting his health at risk. A friend sent Bice an article about Kurbo, and the family signed up in the fall. “Pablo likes the tracking piece,” she says. “He likes being in charge of putting it into his iPad.”

And what are Kurbo kids tracking? Not calories, says Strober, who recalls her son looking at a calorie-counting app and pointing out that he could lose weight by eating five bags of potato chips a day. The focus instead is on helping kids get into the habit of choosing healthy “green light” foods more often than “yellow light” or “red light” foods, and working more physical activity into each day.

A Kurbo coach might help a child find a healthier breakfast cereal, send videos about healthy portion size or fun exercise ideas, or supply healthy recipes to the child’s parents. Bice has taken pictures of food labels to email to their family’s coach, Thea, for discussion during their weekly call. “Having that mentor there is just so helpful,” she says.

Bice also likes the fact that Kurbo doesn’t place any foods off-limits. “The nice thing is that we can budget every day to have some red-light foods,” she says. “And if we go over, it’s not the end of the world.” The family also walks their dog daily and runs together, and Pablo has started choosing soccer over sitting during recess. And by February he had lost 11 pounds.

Kurbo’s $75/month program includes a weekly phone or Skype call with a coach, while the $25/month plan includes coaching feedback via text message. Learn more at www.kurbo.com.

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