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Gaming and Health

By April 11, 2011Commentary

Changing individuals’ health behavior is key to improving health and to ultimately lowering costs.  Behavior change, however, is extremely difficult in any arena of life, and few programs have shown any widespread or meaningful changes in health behaviors.  A new method is the use of gaming technologies, particularly interactive gaming, to encourage people to adopt healthy lifestyles and better manage diseases they may presently have.  An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association reviews the potential of gaming to assist in meeting health needs.  (JAMA Article)

Gaming is widespread, reaching all ages, both genders and across cultures.  As an example of its popularity, the social gaming website Zynga claims to have 215 million users around the worldwide.  Studies indicate that gaming can be a powerful engagement and interaction technique, drawing the user in with a very strong attraction.  For health games to be successful they must use the trademark tools of successful games–setting goals, feedback, points, levels, competition, teamwork and/or personal representation through avatars.  Gaming does have some downsides; it can become all consuming.

The research on use of games in health is in its infancy and there are few longer-term studies.  Those that have been done indicate that games can assist in diet improvement, treatment adherence, and in the case of some disease management, lower utilization and costs.  Gaming interventions tend to be low cost.  Gaming is available through a multiplicity of devices and new ones, like mobile phones, toys or robots, are constantly added.  New features are cropping up as well and may be relevant to health uses, such as GPS-powered location services or the ability to function as a pedometer or to take other metrics such as heart rate in a gaming context.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

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