As children get chubbier and chubbier, finding ways of motivating them to exercise becomes more and more important. Rich and Sheri Schmelzer and Alexandra O'Leary have taken the approach of creating their GeoPalz pedometers, that record how far children walk, so they can then redeem their miles for free prizes and awards on the company’s website. As anyone who spent their childhood proudly working their way up the YM/YWCA’s hierarchy of sew-on swimming crests will tell you ... it’s not a bad idea.

The original model GeoPalz pedometer attaches to a child’s belt or waistband, uses an integrated accelerometer to measure the speed and distance walked, and can store up to 21 days’ worth of data. The company has just launched a new version that can be attached to the child’s shoelaces, or worn on the wrist. A smaller wireless version is also available, that can be read by tapping it with a handheld reader. The reader can simultaneously keep track of up to 20 pedometers, and is intended for use by parents with several children, or by gym teachers.

When kids log onto their GeoPalz website account and update their total number of miles, an onscreen map will indicate how far they’ve walked to date through the cartoony “GeoPalz World.” Physical prizes and printable awards are available at different points along the virtual path that they follow, which they can claim by trading in the points that they earn for each mile walked. The types of prizes available include baseball equipment, hacky sacks, frisbees and other activity-based or educational items. Parents still have to pay for shipping.

Although children could “play the system” by claiming more miles than they actually walked (the pedometer itself does not communicate with the website), parents are required to confirm any figures that exceed the U.S. national average of 16,000 steps per day.

GeoPalz are available at various retailers, or through the company website. The original model sells for US$19.99, while the shoe- and wrist-mounted version goes for $24.99, plus $9.99 for a wrist bracelet.

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