HHS is on the lookout for digital tools to combat childhood obesity and improve prenatal care

a pregnant woman wearing a blue shirt
HHS will review digital tools that can expand access to prenatal care in underserved areas.

The Department of Health and Human Services wants health IT developers to test innovative new tools that reduce the rate of childhood obesity among low-income families and advance the use of remote monitoring for prenatal care.

Under the American COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010, the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau (MCHB) will oversee two prize competitions devoted to identifying new forms of digital health designed specifically for women and children.

The first challenge, devoted to expanding access to prenatal care for women in medically underserved communities, will focus on identifying low-cost solutions that provide safe, accurate continuous monitoring for prenatal care within a patient’s home. MCHB said the remote monitoring technology has the potential to “improve prenatal care quality and pregnancy outcomes while reducing healthcare costs.”

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The second challenge builds on HHS Secretary Tom Price’s goal of reducing childhood obesity rates that have spiked over the last 30 years. MCHB noted that although there are mobile apps devoted to nutrition and exercise, their engagement is limited because they aren’t tailored to the needs of families in low-income, underserved communities.

In California, the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles has begun using Fitbits as part of a childhood obesity research project. Last year, Anthem launched a mobile app to provided education and coaching to curb obesity.  

Both challenges will begin in January with prizes ranging from $100,000 to $150,000 awarded to tools with the best design, development and small-scale testing, and scalability.