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New Social Media Games, Apps from Joslin Help People Live and Eat Healthier

By Michael Lasalandra
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center correspondent

Educators, physicians and patient advocates at Joslin Diabetes Center are using social media and smartphone apps to help people eat and live healthier while having fun at the same time.

A Facebook game called HealthSeeker lets players win medals and badges for taking healthy steps, such as eating better foods or walking instead of riding, with the encouragement of their Facebook friends.

And an iPhone app called Drag n' Cook ™ helps users digitally prepare their own recipes and track the healthiness of the ingredients they use.

"We created the content for HealthSeeker and the game was developed by the Diabetes Hands Foundation," says Amy Campbell, Manager of Clinical Education Programs at Joslin Diabetes Center, a clinical partner of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

"The idea is to use the power of social media, specifically Facebook, to help people make behavioral and lifestyle changes centered around healthy eating and physical activity," she says. "It was created for people with diabetes, but anybody can use it."

While it is considered a game, "the idea is not to sit at your computer all day playing it, but to play it in the real world," Campbell says. "It is based on missions and action steps to reach certain goals and you can play it at the grocery store, at work or at home. You pick a goal or mission, such as eating more fiber or taking the stairs instead of the elevator, for example. And you use your Facebook friends to keep you engaged."

If a player accomplishes a certain goal, he or she gets "kudos" from Facebook friends and earns medals or badges.

So far, at least 12,000 players have enrolled to play the game since it was launched in June 2010. Most, but not all, are people with type 2 diabetes.

"We've gotten a lot of good feedback on our forum," Campbell says. "People say this has helped them stay motivated. It is also a tool that health care providers can use with their patients."

Campbell adds that the game is going to be improved and expanded to add more features in order to keep it new and fresh. HealthSeeker is also available in Spanish.

"We're excited about it," she says.

At the same time, a new iPhone app, Drag 'n Cook ™, developed by Joslin's Asian American Diabetes Initiative (AADI), lets users create their own recipes while learning, determining and modifying the nutritional content of their meals.

"This was based on conversations with our patients who have to watch their diets," says Chihiro Hernandez, Outreach and Communications Officer at Joslin's AADI. "They work with dietitians and follow suggested meal plans, but ultimately it is our goal that individuals are empowered to cook their own dishes instead of just following suggested recipes. This is the whole philosophy behind Drag 'n Cook.™"

The app, which costs $0.99 at the iTunes store, currently comes with a "Basic" and "Chinese" package, which allows users to simply drag ingredients they intend to use into a cookware item of their choice. As they prepare their meals virtually, users learn the nutrition content of the recipes they created, including such things as carbs, fat, fiber and sodium. Players drag the ingredients they intend to use into a wok or frying pan. If they are using too much or too little of certain ingredients than recommended, the app tells them so.

The recipes are analyzed by three different guidelines - AADI's traditional Asian diet, the Percent Daily Value scale, and those from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Once users have made a recipe their own, they can save the ingredients, add a picture and instructions, and share their creation via e-mail or on Facebook.

The Chinese package focuses on ingredients that are essential in preparing Chinese dishes. Soon, they will be expanding the app with more packages for other cuisines, such as Indian and Japanese. The app was launched last March.

"Drag 'n Cook™is not just for patients with diabetes or for people of Asian heritage," Hernandez says. "We want to encourage anybody who is interested in healthy eating to use this tool and explore healthier alternatives. It is something fun that everybody can enjoy."

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in partnership with the Joslin Diabetes Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted November 2012

Contact Information

Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
Department of Medicine
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Shapiro Building
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215

Joslin Diabetes Center

Joslin Diabetes Center
A Clinical Partner of BIDMC
One Joslin Place
Boston, MA 02215