Facebook App Aims to Help Control Diabetes

A new Facebook application, HealthSeeker, wants to help people with diabetes become more informed about their disease, as well as make tangible lifestyle changes that might affect their health. The app was created in part by the non-profit Diabetes Hands Foundation, the Joslin Diabetes Center (a research affiliate of the Harvard Medical School) and Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

Diabetes is a degenerative disease that affects 23.6 million people in the United States, 7.8% of the population, and disproportionately affects minorities there. It may result in death, but often results in amputations or vision and heart problems if not controlled. Thus far, the app has about 1,900 monthly active users.

We’ve previously written that health-related industries like pharmaceutical companies approach social networks like Facebook with caution due to a gray area of law where medical claims must be countered by disclosure of risks or side effects. Consequently HealthSeeker includes a lengthy and prominent disclaimer that the game is for providing information — not to provide medical advice or services.

HealthSeeker has a very easy-to-use interface that’s colorful, interesting and also provides useful information — even to those that do not have diabetes. There are several elements to the app common to other Facebook apps: several opportunities to invite friends, tabs, leaderboards, individual scores, specific goals within the game and a type of level. One interesting difference is that the app prompts users to complete a survey about diabetes.

The tabs showcase 15 “missions” that players can complete, which really amount to changes in lifestyle, such as adding more vegetables to your diet or doing more exercise. With the completion of each mission, players receive points, and additional points for inviting friends (either Facebook or with email) to play, or updating Facebook or Twitter with your activity. More in depth information about app usage on Facebook is available in our Inside Facebook Gold service.

Other indicators in the game track the progress of overall lifestyle goals, such as controlling diabetes or maintaining a healthy weight, a daily health tip/quote, the ability to “write” a message reminder on your fridge within the app, a friend activity feed and tracking of your progress, along with the progress of all other users.

Facebook may not be the most likely place to help people change their health, after all one is usually seated when using it, but it wouldn’t be unprecedented. Games like Dance Dance Revolution and Nintendo’s Wii Fit have assisted some people with their physical health in recent years and since more people are spending increasing amounts of time on Facebook, it may make more sense to keep reminders to get in a little extra fiber or veggies on HealthSeeker’s fridge than your own, physical refrigerator.