According to the American Heart Association, the average time children spend watching screens has doubled since 2010, rising from three hours a day to six.
As a result, the games many of us associate with our childhood – hopscotch, skipping rope, tip the can – are played less and less often by today’s youth, an increasing number of whom are eschewing the outdoors in favour of a tablet or TV.
And this, according to Jamie McGann, a senior research fellow at Dublin City University (DCU) and the co-founder of MoveAhead Technologies, has resulted in a significant decline in children’s movement capabilities.
“We’re seeing 12-year-olds moving like six-year-olds, and six-year-olds moving like two-year-olds,” McGann, a former primary teacher who completed his PhD in Trinity, said. “And that’s something that’s really important to highlight, in terms of where we’re coming from with our business.”
With MoveAhead, McGann and Johann Issartel, his co-founder and an associate professor in the School of Health and Human Performance in DCU, are aiming to turn the problem itself – too much use of technology – into a solution, with a series of movement programmes which it plans to sell to companies developing software and apps aimed at children.
“We work with companies in what we call the ‘kids’ app’ space, and we develop programmes that they can inject into their systems to help children improve their movement,” McGann said.
“As screen time increases, we’re seeing the health issues that arise from it. Companies in the kids’ app space know that there’s a problem there, and they’re trying to tackle it. Embedding a healthy ingredient like Move Ahead – that gets kids moving, is educational and negotiates those negative perceptions – is a really positive thing for them.”
With years of experience in the area of children’s movement, McGann and Issartel decided that the time was right to commercialise their product in 2018. With that, Move Ahead was born.
Three years later, it is now on the verge of spinning out from DCU and aims to raise up to €1.2 million in funding to commercialise its technology. The Enterprise Ireland-backed firm plans to grow its headcount from six to 12 once the spin-out is complete.
It claims to have a strong cohort of customers in the offing, and has run a number of successful trials with children’s app developers as well as sporting organisations, notably Decathlon, the French giant.
“We have a pipeline of customers that we’re looking forward to working with on a more full-time basis as we spin out of the university,” McGann said. “And we want to achieve recognition as the ‘best in class’ engineering and science unit for kids’ movement. That’s our number-one priority.”
MoveAhead’s goal of being the market leader is helped by the fact that the company has created a totally new product, according to Issartel.
“We are the first of our kind to have developed these types of solutions. And we have the science and the data to make our platform really attractive to our clients,” he said.