Diabetes Forecast

Facebook Game Focuses on Health

By Tracey Neithercott ,

Playing a game on Facebook used to mean raising sheep and hens or shooting down enough thugs to rule the mafia in New York City. Fun, but not quite useful. Now, thanks to a collaboration between the Diabetes Hands Foundation and Joslin Diabetes Clinic, there's a more constructive way to spend your time: HealthSeeker.

The game sends health-minded players on daily missions aimed at eating well, managing diabetes, losing or maintaining weight, and reducing the risk for heart disease. Completing the tasks earns players points and may catapult them to a higher, more challenging level.

Here's how it might work: You log on to Facebook, enter HealthSeeker, and click on a new mission—say, Snack Attack. You'll pick three actions—in this case, each revolves around keeping snacking in check. During the day, your goal will be to complete the missions by eating edamame (green soybeans) instead of chips or grabbing an apple between meals.

"We wanted people to play the game but not be stuck in front of the computer," says Manny Hernandez, president of the Diabetes Hands Foundation, a nonprofit organization that connects people with diabetes and raises awareness about the disease, and a developer HealthSeeker, which was financed by Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals. "We wanted them to go out and do [the missions] and come back to the game."

When you log on to HealthSeeker again, you'll record all of the actions you've taken. Completing actions earns you points, and you can score even more by sharing your results with Facebook friends or tweeting them on Twitter. This sharing is a benefit of playing the game. A friend may even send you kudos—the game's version of a high five—for a job well done.

"If you have diabetes, you're charged with doing a lot. Having diabetes can be isolating," says Amy Campbell, MS, RD, CDE, manager of clinical education programs at Joslin Diabetes Center, who helped create content for the game. "[With the game,] you can get support 24-7. You get support from your friends. You can get recognition for doing a good job."

Kudos and badges (virtual medals for completing missions) are particularly motivating if you have a hard time with some aspect of diabetes management. "Those are ways for your friends to congratulate you," says Hernandez. "If you struggle with carb counting, if your friends see that you completed a mission on that, they can send a kudos."

According to Campbell, HealthSeeker provides necessary lifestyle coaching between doctor's visits. "It's this constant support, particularly from the Facebook community, in between when you see your provider," she says. "People need ongoing support with diabetes. Seeing a diabetes educator once or twice a year is nice, but it's not enough."

The support isn't just for people with diabetes. You can invite Facebook friends who don't have diabetes to play the game and cheer you on. "It becomes more fun if you have friends from your network playing it than if you're playing it on your own," says Hernandez.

The diabetes-specific challenges—monitoring blood glucose levels or connecting with other people who have diabetes—are optional, and the rest are applicable to anyone focused on living a healthier life.

"The lifestyle things you do aren't really diabetes-specific," says Richard Jackson, MD, a leading endocrinologist at Joslin who worked on creating the game. "If you're getting to the age where you're worrying about your health, this game fits for that, too."

Above all, the aim of HealthSeeker is to foster a healthy lifestyle for players through nutrition, exercise, stress reduction, diabetes management, and general wellness. "This game requires that you not just play the game in Facebook but that you live your life," says Campbell. "It's focused on making small changes."

To play the game, click here.



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