HealthSeeker’s Mission: A Healthier You—Via Facebook

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Seasons greetings! The presents have been unwrapped, and plenty of food has been eaten and beverages drunk. For many, it’s back to work this week, while others are enjoying the week off. Celebrations continue as we ring out 2010 and welcome 2011.

Speaking of a new year, what health goals have you set for yourself? How will you achieve them? What kind of support system do you have in place to make sure you can stay the course? Oh, you haven’t really thought about goals or resolutions yet? I’m sure all that talk about goal setting, especially when you have diabetes, can wear a little thin at times. Diabetes management requires that you literally take matters into your own hands and develop healthy behaviors. For example, making nutritious food choices, going for a walk, checking your blood glucose, and taking medicine are all behaviors that pretty much require YOU to do the actions. Your health-care team can’t do these things for you, nor can your family, spouse, or friends. They can certainly be supportive, but it’s really up to you.

HealthSeeker to the Rescue
If you’re feeling like you need a jump start with your diabetes control, you’re in luck. There’s a new social media game now available in both English and Spanish called HealthSeeker. This isn’t a “game” like Scrabble or Bejeweled. Rather, it’s a tool that can help you get and stay motivated to take action in a number of lifestyle management areas, such as eating more healthfully, being more active, and reducing stress. First, here’s the background of the game:

  • HealthSeeker was developed by the Diabetes Hands Foundation, a nonprofit organization that connects people who have diabetes via social media, and helps to raise diabetes awareness. The content of the game was developed by me and my colleagues at Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, Massachusetts. The whole game came together with the help of Ayogo, a company that creates games for social media. Funding was providing by Boehringer Ingelheim.
  • In order to play HealthSeeker, you must be a member of Facebook. So if you don’t already have a Facebook account, now’s the time to join. Why Facebook? A key feature of HealthSeeker is that players get support from their Facebook friends. This is where the social media aspect comes into play. By getting messages of encouragement, rewards, and even challenges, the idea is that you literally “stay in the game” to keep working on forming healthy habits. Here is the link to the game on Facebook.
  • If you think that Facebook is just for twenty-somethings, think again. More than 550 million people are on Facebook worldwide. The fastest growing population on Facebook is women over 55. More and more older adults are getting involved with social media, too, so no matter what your age is, don’t be left out. Everyone can benefit.

Here’s how the game works:

  • Once you sign up for HealthSeeker, which is free of charge, you can watch a quick video that tells you how to play the game.
  • The game is based on four lifestyle goals: healthy eating and good nutrition, improved glycemic control, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, and reducing the risk of heart disease.
  • There are a number of “missions” that will help you achieve these lifestyle goals. For example, “Roughin’ It” is a mission centered on getting more fiber in your diet. In order to accomplish each mission, you choose three action steps that literally require you to “take action.” For example, to increase your fiber intake, you might choose to eat a bowl of bran cereal at least three times a week or eat a meatless, bean-based meal at least once a week. As you accomplish your action steps, you then move on to a higher level, and things become a little more challenging.
  • You get points by achieving your action steps and missions, and also by reporting your experiences and success on your “Refrigerator Door.” Your Facebook buddies can send you kudos, offer you support, and even challenge you to a mission. Eventually you earn badges for all that you’ve accomplished. You can even send out messages and progress via Twitter.
  • Recipes are provided from Joslin Diabetes Center to help you accomplish some of the missions.
  • You can invite your family and friends to join you in playing HealthSeeker. They quickly become your source of inspiration and motivation. If you belong to a diabetes support group or attend a diabetes class, let your leader and classmates know and you can connect with them after the group or class is over.
  • The game is played primarily in the real world, not in front of your computer. So while you choose your missions and action steps, and receive support from your Facebook friends, you’re actually out in your everyday life, completing your actions.

Is HealthSeeker for you? You won’t know until you try it. But if you’re in need of some motivation and inspiration, give it a go. You won’t be alone: More than 5000 people have joined the HealthSeeker bandwagon. And if you do start playing, let me know what you think!

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