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Ulster University is helping to address the growing childhood obesity epidemic and encourage physical activity among young people with the launch of Ireland’s first interactive health and wellbeing hub.

The FieldLabs project, which is funded by the European Union, is helping to combat worrying trends of inactivity among children through the development of smart-playground hubs across five European towns and cities. Ulster University, in partnership with Newtownabbey Borough Council, has installed the first interactive hub on the island of Ireland at the Loughshore Park, Jordanstown.

The initiative will complement Ulster University’s world-leading sports research by providing a research and development facility in a real-life setting. Children and adults will be able to choose from a number of fun and educational games that endorse healthy exercise habits. Ulster University will run dedicated healthy lifestyle sessions to monitor exercise intensity, heart rate and calories and provide advice about the benefits of staying active.

The university is working in partnership with leading Dutch producer of sport and play equipment, Yalp Interactive. The company is pioneering the new technology used in the hubs and will use recommendations developed by Ulster University and end-user feedback to identify areas for innovation and product improvement.

Kyle Ferguson from Ulster University’s School of Sport said: “Through the FieldLab project, Ulster University is reinforcing its position at the forefront of sport and exercise research which is helping to improve the health and wellbeing of local communities across Europe and beyond.

“The FieldLab is a truly unique initiative that offers an outdoor space for exercise powered by technology. As a result of the recommendations made by Ulster University, the company will make improvements and new games will be uploaded on to the equipment each month based on the children’s feedback. Ultimately, the university will be able to monitor and report on the benefits of an active lifestyle for the health of future generations.”

Speaking at the launch of the FieldLab in Jordanstown, the Mayor, Alderman Thomas Hogg said: “Newtownabbey is very privileged to be boasting one of these unique FieldLabs, the first of its kind in Northern Ireland. Loughshore Park lends itself perfectly to this outdoor hub and this latest piece of equipment will further contribute to the health and wellbeing of residents and visitors alike.”

Funded by the European Union, under the Interreg IVB North West Europe programme, four other Fieldlabs have been developed in the Netherlands, Belgium and Sheffield by partnering universities including Eindhoven University of Technology, Delft University of Technology, University College West Flanders and Sheffield Hallam University.