Health Games: A Fun way to a healthy YOU!

October 20, 2013 9:49 pm
Posted By: Prathmesh Gandhi

My Graduate Assistant work at CHIDS introduced me to the world of health games. As I research more about health games and their application to the world of diabetes – specifically Type 2 Diabetes, I am getting more intrigued by them. How can games – video games or some other simple games say trivia help people manage their diabetic condition better?

Before we jump into the games – let me explain a bit about Diabetes. Diabetes is a group of metabolic diseases in which a person has high blood sugar, either because the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, or because cells do not respond to the insulin that is produced. Today there are 25.8 million diabetics in US alone or roughly 8% of the population and its prevalence is growing. It’s broadly categorized as Type 1 Diabetes and Type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is mainly hereditary while type 2 diabetes is more of a lifestyle disease. A few of the causes of Type 2 Diabetes include obesity, lack of physical activity, poor diet, stress and urbanization.
Resonates with your day to day living? That’s exactly where health games come into picture. Today all of the age groups are running after their goals and in the process are neglecting their health. The definition of relaxation is no longer a game of football or running, but it has changed to video games and television. Add to it the colas and pizzas that come along with this relaxation. As a result, the population is getting more obese. In 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported higher obesity numbers, counting 35.7% of American adults as obese, and 17% of American children. That’s a direct vulnerability to diabetes as stated above. Hence, finding ways to combat this trend such as with health games become all the more important.

Video games appeal to a large chunk of population – youth and adult. As a result, they have a widespread reach and if designed meticulously can help change unhealthy habits in both kids and adults and drive them towards a healthy living. Currently, I am researching how can health games drive existing diabetic adults towards a better lifestyle, and how can they help them keep their diabetes in check. As a MBA student, we learned that habits need around 3-6 weeks to change. So to be effective, these health games need to be intriguing enough to sustain use for at least that time to affect changes in habits.

We found a few games that are already out there, targeting an entire diabetic population per se. For E.g. the Diabetic Dog Game by BrainPop, is a game where you are a caretaker for a diabetic dog and you manage his health by looking after its food supply and medicines. It helps you learn more about how to manage your own diet and how each of the foods that you buy weigh in on your health, when is an insulin injection necessary etc. Another game is HealthSeeker, which has been developed by Ayogo Games in collaboration with Diabetes Hands Foundation, and Joslin Diabetes Center. It is a Facebook based game that encourages a user to use social media to play the game. The user sets his/her goals, and gets points and badges for completing them. The goals are set to promote healthy eating habits and regular exercise schedules. As is the case with all Facebook games, you can also invite your friends to play and challenge them to certain goals. Thus, it tries to foster an environment of competitiveness. There are also a slew of social wellness game firms relevant to “lifestyle diseases” like diabetes that are targeting the employer wellness market, like Keas, Limeade, Virgin Health Miles and OneHealth.

Overall, a great learning experience for me as I go about researching the various health games in the market and learning more about diabetes. Being a donor to the American Diabetes Association for the past 4 years and someone who has seen a family member affected by diabetes, I can relate to a lot of these findings and that’s fuel to my research about Diabetes. I’m hopeful that our research efforts will translate into effective interventions for behavior change and chronic disease management via new games, tools and other methods.