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Sometimes, just giving useful tools isn't enough to get someone started... But rankings, competition among friends and prizes often are!

Photo of Caio De Matos
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We're talking about trying to get people to develop healthier habits and lifestyles, and use technology to do the trick, so Apps are a natural answer, right? And there are already tons of health trackers, from pedometers to apps that list the nutrients and vitamins of everything you have eaten during the day. Besides, nowadays it's all about the apps, and everyone loves them. But hey, is it enough to have an app and that's it?

There's a little catch there, which is: for an app to know which nutrients you've eaten and which ones are missing, you have to manually input everything you eat, so it can break it down into nutrients and analyze. EVERYTIME YOU EAT ANYTHING. So, what's the advantage for the user on doing that? "Knowing which nutrients are missing, to be able to work on a better diet" one could say. Well, there's the catch: that's the mindset of someone who is already an enthusiast of a healthy lifestyle - someone who would do it anyway, even if there wasn't an app. But it is very unlikely that someone who hasn't seen the point on changing to a healthier lifestyle yet (or is worried about it, but not that much) would go through all that work just to get some nutritional facts.

I'll give a personal example to illustrate that: Some weeks ago, I realised I wasn't drinking enough water during the day. So what was my plan for that? Download an app, of course! An app that calculates the amount of water I should drink, remind me to drink it and track my water intake during the day. I've used that app for like... three days! I never remembered to input the water I drank, ignored the notifications reminding me to drink water, it was awful. So how is it possible that I can't just click a button when I drink a cup of water, but on the other hand never forget to check in on EVERY PLACE I GO on Foursquare (well, now Swarm)?

It has lost it on the way, but when I developed the habit, Foursquare had a pretty good gamification strategy: I got points for going to different places, to places where my friends were, to travel long distances, and so on. Besides that, I could compete with my friends on the ranking for that week, I could compete with everyone for the mayorship of a place and got funny badges for specific events of recurrent types of check-ins. Even though it's not something really valuable (like one's health, maybe =p) it provides an instant reward for your effort, and that triggers a lot of neurological response associated to satisfaction.

The same thing happens when a group of friends or coworkers decide to make a losing weight competition, with a prize in cash to the winner. People tend to work harder when there are tangible goals and prizes, and a group activity with friends help everyone keep going. And even though that kind of action always have an expiration date, it can work to kickstart new habits.

So, if an app is the way to go, how can we make it just as social and engaging as a group game/competition, so it would overcome the problem of having to input data on it all the time?


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Photo of An Old Friend

Yes, I love this! I love games! I want to be the Mayor of Apples, the Duchess of Protein, and get a badge when I hit my daily fiber requirements.

Photo of Caio De Matos

Yes, Kathleen, wouldn't it be awesome? =D And what if you got a discount on apples at the nearest grocery store when you became the Mayor of Apples (similar to the specials Foursquare used to have)? And when your friends see you're now the Duchess of Protein, their gonna want to claim that title too! Creating that kind of healthy competition and enthusiasm about the activity is the key to make a change here!

Photo of An Old Friend

Adding in the coupon element adds advantage for lower income users to track their foods.

It would of course have to work slightly differently than Mayor on Foursquare (admittedly I stopped using it when it switched to Swarm). I think you only get to be the Mayor of Apples if you eat the most apples out of your friend group? But is eating that many apples good for you?

Perhaps it is something like Mayor of fruits and vegetables when you hit your daily recommendations for the most days in a row? Fun to think about!

Photo of Caio De Matos

Yes, that would be perfect! So it fits right in with the challenge theme.

I was already thinking about that point, so I'm with you there, it would have to be a personalised amount according to the recommendations for your specific needs. I think it should be the most days in a row (or just most days) but in a well-defined time window, like this week, or this month, or 60 days, like the mayorship on Foursquare worked. And I say that because I would feel very unmotivated to pursuit becoming the Mayor of fruits if I'd just joined the game and found out that the current mayor has a winning streak of 235 days!

Photo of An Old Friend

Agreed on the time window. It has been a bit since I used Foursquare (I don't enjoy Swarm as much), but I would sign back up to try this game!

I hope you keep the title of Duke/Duchess of Protein ;)

Photo of Caio De Matos

I guess you wouldn't have to. I'm using foursquare just as a benchmark, but I believe this should be created in an entirely different app, not built in on Swarm (you should check it though, they've returned with the old badges, now as stickers, so I think it might be about to get interesting again ;D)

Hahahaha I'll make sure we keep that title there, and you shall be its first owner! ;)

Photo of Joyce S. Lee

There is an app applying many of these gamification principles (daily points, levels, badges, and real gifts) called Mango Health. Currently it's focused on medication adherence (so, using reminders and rewards to inspire folks to take meds and supplements as prescribed) but also expanding soon to other healthy habits as well (drinking water, tracking blood pressure, watching weight, counting steps, etc.).

More info on healthy habits reminders:

I think what they're doing is pretty great, but I'm a little biased! Full disclosure: I work here. :)

Photo of Victoria Dzindzichashvili

Hi Caio and Kathleen!

First, this is a great thought. Gamification has been a theme of other challenges associated with behavior as well; we've also studied how positive feedback can help to encourage behavior change when the change is relatively low "cost" but has a high long-term benefit.

I also think it's great to be conscious of people's specific dietary needs. That being said, consumption of fresh produce is a good thing in virtually all cases! :) So I think that for the most part, providing positive feedback/incentives for consumption of fruit and veggies is a good thing. The MyFitnessPal app allows users to customize their daily goal based on dietary needs, and then rewards them for sticking to the goal they designed. That might be something to consider.

Photo of Caio De Matos

Joyce, that's really interesting! As a pharmacist myself, it got me really excited to see that it also brings information about drug interactions with other drugs or food, which very commonly aren't well explained by doctors or at drugstore counters, and most people aren't aware of that kind of interaction.

I wanted to download it to take a look, but unfortunately it doesn't seem to be compatible with any of my devices... =\

Photo of Joyce S. Lee

Caio - Sorry to hear this, but thanks for trying to check it out anyway! :)

Photo of Em Havens

Hey Joyce! Mango Health seems like it's making great progress in connecting the every day to the "epic win" in order to really shift health outcomes. Have you all uncovered other successful examples of successful gamification principles? Are there certain principles that work better for certain populations? Or strategies that you've seen, Joyce, that have totally flopped at Mango Health?

Photo of Helen Escalante

Another one good alternative for MangoHealth might be Appotek ( If you are looking for some, it will be released soon.

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