Partners takes health technology into Boston-area schools

Partners HealthCare in Boston is taking technology out of the hospital and into local schools as a way to prevent future health problems, particularly obesity.

The Northeastern health giant will provide wireless "sneaker chip" pedometers to 350 third- and fourth-graders at six Boston-area public schools this spring, allowing them to track how many steps they take each day. The data automatically will be uploaded to a "designated computer hub" in the school when children walk by it, Partners officials say.

Starting next month, a 10-week challenge will have teams of students competing in a "virtual foot race" from Boston to Orlando, Fla., with the pedometer data showing how far they've gone. Each individual student receives a step report, too, which they can track on a refrigerator magnet designed for the program, officials say.

The students "love it. When they got their reports on Friday it really encouraged them to better their own scores," third-grade teacher Melissa Sidiropoulos told about her class' participation in the program last year.

The program, being expanded from its initial test in 2010, has some heavy hitters behind it. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, Boston mayor Thomas Menino and U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius all showed up at Holmes Elementary School in Dorchester, Mass., last Wednesday to kick off the program expansion.

"Teaching children at an early age about the benefits of exercise and good nutrition helps put them on the right track to live healthier, productive lives as adults. Boston supports a number of important health and wellness initiatives, including the Let's Move campaign, to solve the crisis of childhood obesity," Menino said in a statement.

And Massachusetts isn't alone in seeing schools as the next frontier for improving Americans' health. The most recent data shows Illinois grew its number of school-based clinics by 20 percent in 2010, and the Affordable Care Act's Grants for School-Based Health Centers Capital Program awarded about $100 million in grants in 2011.

To learn more:
- read the Healthcare IT News story 
- check out the coverage
- get more detail from the Partners statement