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Public Health

Public HealthEveryday cancer kills 1,500 U.S. citizens, totaling 547,500 Americans in a single year and rising. Over 800,000 people die in the U.S. each year from cardiovascular disease and strokes, which are also a leading cause of serious long-term disability. The American Heart Association estimated that stroke cost the country about $53.9 billion in 2010. Other health problems include less immediately life threatening, but nonetheless quite costly challenges such as obesity, stress and anxiety, smoking, binge drinking, ADHD, and physical impairment. Change advocates are arguing for a shift from healthcare models that are practitioner-centric towards a more patient-centric system that focuses on prevention and behavior improvements.

Games are being utilized to teach patients about the nature of their health conditions, manage their wellness plans, and guide them to healthier, more connected and enjoyable lives.

The White House has already used games for challenges around youth obesity and multiple agencies are exploring the intersection of games and brain plasticity to drive a variety of health outcomes.  There are also a host of games being designed by commercial game companies to improve health.  Some of these gamify healthy eating habits, others focus on dispositional change, and still others offer simulations of complex health and safety strategies to help mitigate, for example, the spread of viruses. Games are also being used to help drive breakthroughs in cures for diseases.  For example, one group of gamers playing a crowd-sourced protein-folding game (Foldit) helped unlock the structure of a protein that helps cause AIDS, a protein that the scientific community had been unable to unlock for over a decade.  Games and technology are changing the doctor-patient relationship in every aspect from records management to symptom assessment to the delivery of preventive and corrective procedures.

How can we most effectively use games to improve public health? Can crowd-source games that call on the collective intelligence of all citizens provide insights into some of the nation’s largest health problems—whether unlocking the structure of proteins or producing policy recommendations regarding how to respond to an epidemic? Can we use games to increase brain functioning or to change unhealthy patterns?

*Public Health Icon: “Genetics” symbol by  symbol by Jack Biesek, Gladys Brenner,  Margaret Faye, Healther Merrifield, Kate Keating, Wendy Olmstead, Todd Pierce, Jamie Cowgill, Jim Bolek, from The Noun Project collection.