Creating healthier futures for ill children

Health games for children

Healthy lifestyle adoption already starts from childhood and increases the likelihood of living a healthy life as an adult. Technology has been proposed as an effective method for encouraging children to embrace healthy behaviours and the idea of using games to promote better health-related outcomes has gained significant interest (1). Here we discuss the definition, nature and effectiveness of serious games, digital solutions that are currently available for children, and how Triumf health app supports the behaviour change in ill children.

What are serious games?

Serious games, often referred to as health games, are defined as ones in which education is the primary goal rather than entertainment (2). As such, whilst entertainment characteristics (e.g. animation, storyline, sound effects) are present, the main focus is actually on behaviour change (1;3). Given its ambition, the importance of creating evidence-based games specifically targeting users’ physical and mental health challenges is beginning to gain recognition (1). The main implication areas in healthcare are rehabilitation, health promotion and education, educating as well as training healthcare professionals and patient distraction during painful treatment (2).

As the main topic of this post is driving behaviour change in children, we’ll be focussing on health promotion. Health games typically focus on aspects such as raising awareness of various health conditions and symptoms, diet, exercise, hygiene and social abilities, and achieve it through provision of health-related information, opportunities to practice healthy lifestyle skills, changing internal mediators (e.g. self-regulatory skill development), and more (2;4).

Benefits of games

But why do we need games to induce healthy behaviours in the first place? They have the potential to promote change through three processes, according to Fleming and colleagues (2017; 5). Firstly, given their popularity especially among children, games can increase the reach of interventions to those who might not otherwise access the support. Additionally, games are known for their engaging potential and enjoyable perception by the users, helping increase the interest of the player. Lastly, gaming can offer immersive experiences and provide diverse sensory environment, where players can try and rehearse new skills (e.g. problem solving) and behaviours in a safe but reactive medium.

Evidence of Effectiveness

Serious games allow the translation of traditional evidence-based interventions, such as cognitive-behavioural theory and psychological therapies, into a novel health care intervention (5). They’ve been found to have a small but positive effect on promoting healthy lifestyle, which is comparable to the effect of computer-delivered interventions (4). In a more recent study, Lau and colleagues (2017) demonstrated that serious games may be effective for reducing symptoms related to mental health disorders (6). Similarly, the findings of our study show high feasibility and usability of using a gaming environment to support the wellbeing of pediatric cancer patients (7). Regardless of the potential positive effect, the evidence is still at an early stage, especially among children, and further studies are needed to gain deeper knowledge and understand long term effect (5).

Health games for children

App evaluator platform ORCHA has assessed and listed several games for children. Of the TOP applications listed, Brili is designed for helping kids manage their daily routines, starting from brushing their teeth to cleaning their bedrooms. The Worrinots app provides children with a safe and secure place to share their worries, fears and concerns and equips them with practical ways for coping with gear. Children aged 2-6 years who are experiencing loss due to glue ear may find help from Hear Glue Ear, developed to reduce learning and development delays associated with hearing loss. Philips Sonicare for Kids app transforms brush time into fun times - parents, no more asking them if they have brushed their teeth. Lastly, Apart of Me is designed to help children cope with the death of a loved one by helping find wisdom and build strength. Check out ORCHA page for more information, where you can also see the review of Triumf app. triumf_game_minigames

Triumf health app for ill children

The aim of Triumf digital game is to lessen or prevent the development of psychological problems in ill children. In addition, we want to empower kids to engage in healthy behaviours. As such, we’ve cleverly integrated psychological therapies and theories as well as behaviour change techniques into a game environment, which allows us to reach kids in a safe and fun way. In the game, kids can learn more about their illness, practice relaxation and mindfulness techniques, play educating mini-games and improve problem-solving skills. Clinical trials have showed that our game can have a positive impact on children’s wellbeing and mental health and we look forward to sharing futher findings of ongoing randomised control trials among various patient groups with you. You can request for a demo on our website: https://triumf.health

References

  1. Verschueren, S., Buffel, C., & Vander Stichele, G. (2019). Developing theory-driven, evidence-based serious games for health: framework based on research community insights. JMIR serious games, 7(2), e11565.
  2. Serious Games in Healthcare: https://ehealthresearch.no/files/documents/Faktaark/Fact-sheet-2016-11-Serious-Games-in-Healthcare.pdf
  3. Thompson, D. (2014). What serious video games can offer child obesity prevention. JMIR serious games, 2(2), e8.
  4. DeSmet, A., Van Ryckeghem, D., Compernolle, S., Baranowski, T., Thompson, D., Crombez, G., ... & Vandebosch, H. (2014). A meta-analysis of serious digital games for healthy lifestyle promotion. Preventive medicine, 69, 95-107.
  5. Fleming, T. M., Bavin, L., Stasiak, K., Hermansson-Webb, E., Merry, S. N., Cheek, C., ... & Hetrick, S. (2017). Serious games and gamification for mental health: current status and promising directions. Frontiers in psychiatry, 7, 215.
  6. Lau, H. M., Smit, J. H., Fleming, T. M., & Riper, H. (2017). Serious games for mental health: are they accessible, feasible, and effective? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Frontiers in psychiatry, 7, 209.
  7. Tark, R., Metelitsa, M., Akkermann, K., Saks, K., Mikkel, S., & Haljas, K. (2019). Usability, Acceptability, Feasibility, and Effectiveness of a Gamified Mobile Health Intervention (Triumf) for Pediatric Patients: Qualitative Study. JMIR serious games, 7(3), e13776.
Author

Kaari Kink

Author

Kaari Kink

With her background in health sciences and physical activity, she brings expertise in inducing behavioral change.