Rethinking Healthcare

Fighting childhood obesity with a new pair of denim

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Stuart Karten Design and USC have developed a program that motivates kids to adopt healthier diets and behaviors using jeans and a 'magic mirror.'

Can a pair of jeans that’re one size too small help motivate young people to make lasting healthy choices?

This month, California innovation consultancy Stuart Karten Design unveiled a program to fight the childhood obesity epidemic using fashion and some visualization help.

“Self-image is the elephant in the room when people talk about obesity,” says Stuart Karten of SKD. “People refer to health, but they skirt around the topic of appearance. But for a young person who is overweight, appearance has a huge emotional impact. We wanted to open up that part of the conversation in a positive way.”

It’s called DownWithDenim.Org, and when teens and tweens sign up for the program, they will receive a free pair of denim jeans in the next size down.

A body weight loss of 5-10% can impact health tremendously, and for many, that generally means one jean size. In that sense, jeans become a concrete representation of progress, according to SKD.

The participants also gain support from virtual meetings with a coach, an online community, mobile apps (like ‘Eat This Not That’), and a truck.

But unlike your average LA food truck, this one is stocked with a trainer, nutritionist, and a ‘Magic Mirror,’ which helps kids visualize how they’d look with a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI). It’s meant to be a source of motivation.

Each time a participant fits into their downsized denim, they can consult with a dietician and select another pair of jeans in the next size down until they reach a healthy BMI.

As part of a design challenge to find a solution for childhood obesity, SKD was paired up with University of Southern California’s Center for Body Computing.

"This is not an issue that just has to do with obesity and personal aesthetics,” says USC cardiologist Leslie Saxon, “rather it is a question of how children worldwide can eat healthier food and live a more healthy life."

Image: SKD

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Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure