MUMBAI: Want to lure away kids from sugary beverages and junk food? An Indian start-up is attempting to do just that to enforce healthy eating in a fun and interactive manner, by using a `digital vaccine’. This becomes even more relevant now with Covid-19 serving as a wake-up call, for inducing a healthy diet and propping the immune system to prevent lifestyle ailments.
Tech and innovation have a role to play to improve processes and experience in all aspects, and it’s no different when it comes to institutionalizing positive behaviour change in kids.
A Chennai-based company, FriendsLearn has completed trials which show “path breaking evidence’’ of an ability to influence healthier food choices among children through a mobile game, based on neurocognitive science and virtual-reality simulation-based implicit learning.
As part of the study, randomized controlled trials were done with over 100 children in the age group of 10-11 years, in four urban and suburban CBSE and ICSE schools in Chennai in October.
The study says a mobile video game embedded with implicit learning components showed a strong, positive impact on children’s food choices, immediately following the game. Game telemetry captured children’s different play patterns and was associated with behavioral outcomes.
The results have implications for the use of mobile games as an intervention to improve health behaviours, and to tackle the growing epidemic of obesity in children, researchers say.
Bhargav Sri Prakash, founder & CEO of FriendsLearn, the company which developed the mobile app, fooya! and also co-author of the study, says: “There is strong evidence to show our methods of neuro- behaviour modulation relating to dietary habits, is safe and produces strong and tangible health outcomes. This is the first such study that reports health outcomes as a result of neurocognitive training through immersive mobile games for children, which draw from experiential and implicit learning models. The results of the trial are determined through advances in machine learning and deep learning to connect specific experiences of a child with observed health outcomes”.
The study published findings of the trial led by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Hofstra University, in JMIR Health, a reputed medical journal for digital health and digital medicine.
This was the first time that researchers attempted to validate a localized version of content dynamically generated by the neural network for children in India. The trial was undertaken after the technology had been successfully and clinically proven through four randomized controlled Phase 1 and 2 trials, undertaken by global researchers earlier.
The study showed that children who played fooya! for just 20 minutes a week made significantly healthier food choices immediately and that successive weekly sessions reproduced significantly positive health outcomes.
Further, it has shown that fooya! is safe and effective at transference of the precision methods of neurocognitive training to physiological and neuro-behavioral outcomes, the researchers said.