Partners takes its tech-driven Step It Up program to Boston schools

By Bernie Monegain
08:18 AM

Partners HealthCare and its Center for Connected Health is offering its Partners Step It Up program to elementary students at six Boston public schools this year. The program incorporates technology, educational feedback and a team-oriented virtual foot race to raise awareness about the importance of daily activity and good health.

Partners executives announced the expansion of the program Feb. 29 during a visit by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Gov. Deval Patrick and Mayor Thomas M. Menino to the Boston Public Schools.

Partners Step It Up will provide wireless pedometers or ‘sneaker chips’ to 350 third and fourth grade students. The chips clip onto sneakers or shoes and are designed to measure the number of steps and count the minutes of activity of each student. The data on the sneaker chips is automatically uploaded to a designated computer hub in the school when students walk near it.

“We want to help the young people of our city live active, healthy lives,” said Gary Gottlieb, MD, president and CEO, of Partners HealthCare. “Partners Step It Up encourages increased physical activity and good nutrition, and through our collaboration with the Center for Connected Health, DotWell, and the Boston public schools, we’re able to expand Partners Step It Up from two to six schools this year “We are happy to announce that we will engage more than 350 students in a fun, competitive healthy living program.”

Sebelius visited the Oliver Wendell Holmes Elementary School in Dorchester, Mass., for a demonstration. She met with students and teachers who participated in Partners Step It Up and learned how they benefited from the program. Sebelius also took part in an “exercise burst” with students wearing the sneakers chips.
"We know that the health and well-being of our kids is a growing concern," said Sebelius. "Today there are more reasons to stay inside on the couch, and fast unhealthy meals can be easier to get than nutritious ones, and the result is that almost one in every three children in our nation is overweight or obese. The Partners Step It Up initiative is a great example of how a private partner like Partners HealthCare and a public partner like the Boston Public Schools can come together to help kids get and stay healthy."

“We have been delighted at how students have embraced Partners Step It Up and increased their activity week after week, especially during weekends, which suggests that their enthusiasm for the program continues at home,” said Joseph C. Kvedar, MD, director, Center for Connected Health, Partners HealthCare. “Partners Step It Up is successfully using available technology to raise awareness and education about the benefits of increased activity, to help motivate children in the community to be fit and active.”

“Boston Public Schools and Partners HealthCare share a commitment to helping keep our children active and healthy, and teaching them the benefits of regular exercise and good nutrition,” added Carol R. Johnson, Boston Public Schools Superintendent. “Partners Step It Up has been a real catalyst in our elementary schools, to engage our children in healthier lifestyles."

This year the Edward Everett Elementary, John F. Kennedy Elementary, Joseph P. Manning Elementary, Oliver Wendell Holmes Elementary, William E. Russell Elementary, and the Mario Umana Academy are slated to participate.

Beginning in April, and throughout the 10-week challenge, teams of students will compete in a virtual foot race from Boston to Orlando, Fla. Each week, teachers will receive a report showing their team’s cumulative step count. In addition, each student will receive an individual “step report” containing their total weekly step count as well as the cumulative number of steps they have taken since the program’s start. The students track their steps in a fun and engaging way on a specially designed fridge magnet.
According to the 2011 Health of Boston report by Boston Public Health Commission, more than 43 percent of Boston’s school children are overweight or obese.