“Gamifying” Weight Loss and Behavior Change

May 21

We all know that weight loss is a simple equation – more calories expended than consumed. Eat healthy and increase physical activity. But if it was that easy to change behavior, break habits, and stave off cravings, then we would not be facing the problem of obesity among over one third of all adults in the U.S.

Last week, amidst all of the Weight of the Nation buzz, an article in The New York Times caught my eye. Nicole LaPorte’s article, “Dieting for Dollars (or Maybe a Movie Ticket),” presents a few important ideas:

  • “Gamification,” or applying techniques from games and psychology, can change real world behavior. The IBM engineers featured in the article wanted to make weight loss fun, so they took inspiration from their favorite video games to develop a program that helps with weight loss every step of the way.
  • Real time encouragement and feedback is key. The IBM program takes a card from the Honda Insight hybrid and gives immediate feedback on behavior – meaning someone is “scolded” when they eat a candy bar but praised when they opt for a salad.
  • Tangible rewards don’t hurt either. Beyond the encouragement, the program offers actual incentives like money and movie tickets as a reward for successful weight loss.
  • Workplace participation and support means success. IBM envisions the program being offered by health insurance providers through workplaces, meaning employees are encouraged to get up and take a 15 minute walk at lunchtime, or bike into the office. Institutionalizing healthy living and weight loss encourages actual lifestyle changes rather than fad diets.

Gaming is being applied more and more often in social marketing – and not just in the weight loss arena. For more posts about the use of games to change behavior, check out these previous posts: Using Games in Social Marketing and Modifying Behavior Through Video Games.

image from istockphoto.com

This entry was posted on Monday, May 21st, 2012 at 8:31 am and is filed under Behavior Change, Social Marketing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

One Response to ““Gamifying” Weight Loss and Behavior Change”

  1. Interesting. I’ve been using Weight Watchers online for about two years, and I do treat it like a game. I praise myself when I come in right at my point target for the day, look for ways to improve my eating habits, and use my weekly points for small rewards. This works because I’m constantly evaluating how well I play the game.