With new product, Fitbit seeks previously-untapped consumer: 8-to-13 year olds. What are the implications?

Back in February, we wrote about the whispers in the health technology industry of a wearable tracking device for kids. Now, Fitbit has done it. The company has officially launched Ace, a fitness tracker targeted for children aged 8-13 years, available for pre-order now.

Fitbit publicizes the device as a tool to get kids moving, motivating them to reach the 60 minutes of daily activity recommended by the Center for Disease Control and sending celebration messages when they reach their goals. In the advertisement linked on Fitbit’s website, two children engage in friendly exercise competitions within their everyday life. The device also aims to be family-friendly, allowing family members to sync together on the Fitbit app. Parents can monitor kids’ numbers, from steps to sleep stats, for the price of $99.95.

The advent of Ace marks a new era of health incentives for young children, but also a new era of numbers monitoring, both on the part of kids themselves and their parents.

While one can dream up a creative dystopian future where this tracking gets out of control, there are potentially unsettling realities in the present that don’t require such imagination.

For instance, we could look  to children (or adults) who have already been paying attention to their health data for years, without the help of a special wristlet. Given its ability to fluctuate and ease in measuring, weight is often the easiest parameter for these children to track. But it is well-known that relying on the numbers of the scale can lead to or exacerbate dangerous outcomes like eating disorders and body dysmorphia. Would the increasing  convenience in measuring daily activity have the counterintuitive effect of intensifying unhealthy tracking behavior?

Another example is the increased distraction such  technology poses in the classroom. In the past decade, teachers have had to adapt to the growing presence of cell phones in class, dealing with the new handheld screen that captures the attention of pre-teens far more effectively than pre-algebra does. What kind of impact would Ace have for the 8-year-old user? Will third-graders now be running around the halls in the name of their Fitbit friendly competitions?

There are also many school-children whose families can’t afford the new technology. The Ace could serve as a signal of wealth and perpetuate socioeconomic segregation from an even earlier age. If a child’s family cannot pay for the wearable device, undoubtedly, she would  be excluded from step competitions at recess.

Fitbit’s Ace may be an excellent way to incentivize kids to exercise—as demonstrated in the company’s picture-perfect commercial—but it also may not work for every child. CHIL encourages parents considering this new device to think about how it will be incorporated into your child’s day-to-day life. If wary of the health outcomes or if the price tag is too high, bear in mind there are many other (time-tested) methods out there to encourage kids to get moving! CHIL is working on a list of ideas to share with you in the coming weeks.