This week at Games for Health, I had the pleasure of meeting Tara Cousineau, PhD, founder and CEO of BodiMojo, Inc. Tara is a clinical psychologist and eHealth innovator. Bodimojo.com, the flagship product, is a health engagement platform for teens leveraging web and mobile technologies. When I learned about this online health community, I thought about the impact it could have on the health literacy of the teens and promptly asked Tara for an interview. I hope you find our discussion as inspiring as I did!
BC: What was your inspiration for creating BodiMojo?
TC: The inspiration for “BodiMojo” arose from the need to personalize health information and skills to the individual teenager during a time that is pretty chaotic, demanding and distracting.
Originally, BodiMojo was developed as an obesity prevention program, to motivate teens to eat more fruits and veggies and get out and exercise. But we learned quickly that those goals are pretty much non-starter with this age group!
We talked with many teenagers to get a good understanding of what mattered to them about their wellbeing and what a novel online platform might contain to keep them engaged and educated. Teens also helped us to name the program – and it’s been great to hear over and over, “BodiMojo. That’s a cool name!” And really, that’s our mission: to make health cool for teens; to make it about being your best self, inside and out. We definitely take a holistic view.
BC: What do you mean ‘holistic’?
TC: Teens’ bodies are changing throughout the high school years; their brains are in a hormonal soup and undergoing rapid cognitive changes. Think of the teens you know (orthe one you were): they can be spaced out, clumsy, moody, stubborn, ditzy, giddy, and sleepy and so on.
On the social side, fitting in is paramount. How they look and feel is centerstage. “Health” is not compartmentalized like it might be for grownups. While teens may be getting many of the critical prevention messages for high-risk behaviors (e.g.,safe sex, no drugs, no alcohol), they aren’t actually getting health information that is meaningful to where they’re at in the moment based on their current behaviors or attitudes.
BC: Health literacy is not only a hot topic in public health but also an important aspect for consuming health messages and translating them into behavior change. One’s health literacy starts to take shape early in life and is influenced by a multitude of factors. Have you approached any aspects of BodiMojo with health literacy in mind?
TC: Health literacy and media literacy is top of mind for us. The very nature of adolescence is that it is a time of transition. Teaching to the task, rather than teaching to the individual teen, is problematic because the message will only get through to whoever is paying attention at the time or who cares about the issue. For example, a high school student might get a nutrition module in gym class (if they even have PE), or a human reproduction lesson in a 9th grade biology class – that may be it over the entire course of high school! And really you have to teach health messages again and again, because a 13-year old girl is dealing with different issues than a 17-year old guy. There are many missed opportunities when it comes to health ed.
BC: What’s unique about BodiMojo?
TC: What we do that is new and different is that we that tailor health information. In their “My Page” teens can create tap into their “Health Mojo” through a series of self-assessments called “BodiMojo Snapshots.” These are customized reports in nutrition,fitness, body image, and stress. The feedback is based on gender, age, BMI and whether a teen is on a sports team. Over time we want to drill down even more, so the messages can be as relevant as possible. Teens can then set goals, track them and earn points as they engage. They can share their goals on their Facebook profiles and send themselves reminders via SMS. By personalizing the information we are helping teens to be more literate, or mindful, of their own health and that of others.
BC: The Games for Health conference was held this week in Boston and it seems gaming is gaining momentum in this space. Who designed the games on BodiMojo, how have teens responded to them and what plans do you have for additional health gaming?
TC: Our funding is from a National Institutes of Health Small Business Innovative Research grant, and we pulled together a team of programmers, designers and writers as well as health experts and teens, to create the platform. We then tested it in 4 area high schools in Massachusetts, suburban and urban. Our results were very positive. For girls in particular, exposure to the BodiMojo over 4 weeks significantly improved their attitudes about their own body image relative to those who did not get the program (results will be presented at a scientific conference in the Fall). So we tapped into some of the issues that are important to teens, but not typically addressed in obesity prevention or wellness campaigns. From what our teens tell us we also know that under-addressed issues are sleep and stress. And if you think about it, you really want a teen to be well rested and emotionally balanced first and foremost!
We hope that tackling the psychosocial issues will then nudge teens in to making healthy decisions related to healthy food choices, physical activity, and stress management, among other behaviors. BodiMojo is going mobile next. We’re creating a mobile browser version and an iPhone app. Stay tuned. In the meantime, send teens to the site and check out some interactive tools: Headspin, Body Talk and Mood Cloud.
BC: How are you going to promote BodiMojo?
TC: Good question! An issue that came up at the Games for Health conference was around getting research and academic inspired programs to the public and what business models could work. We plan to integrate with body sensor devices so that we can provide real-time feedback for teens. We’re set up nicely to be the “teen wrap-around” for wellness devices. Importantly, we believe that parents and caregivers will want to support their teens in taking healthy action, through a health allowance program,for instance, and through communities or schools with shared goals. We’re talking to strategic partners now and welcome a conversation with others!
BC: For those who haven’t yet checked out www.bodimojo.com, would you give them your elevator pitch?
TC: Really, the pitch is a single question: What’s YOUR bodimojo?
You can find out more about BodiMojo at www.bodimojo.com.
Help spread the word! Like BodiMojo at www.facebook.com/bodimojo and follow them at twitter.com/bodimojo. And while you’re at it, check out their YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/bodimojo.