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Can Gamification Help Us Better Teach Nutrition?

Michelle Simon, PhD, ND President & CEO, Institute for Natural Medicine Michelle Simon, PhD, ND President & CEO, Institute for Natural Medicine
Longevity By Nature

Digestion is an increasingly important topic in health and wellness. New information is emerging almost daily about the microbiome, our gut-brain connection, and the role of pre and probiotics in systemic inflammation, immune function and mood.

Digestion alone, however, is an insufficient topic to address in a patient if the related factors regarding personal food choice are not also considered. For example, what is a person’s knowledge about nutrition and food? What foods are they choosing and why? What might motivate a patient to choose healthier foods? This often plays out over an even bigger challenge, what is your patient’s access to affordable, nutrient-dense food sources in their local neighborhood?

After more than a year of being mostly homebound due to the pandemic, many people are recognizing the impact of their dietary choices like never before. This realization may occur when your patient looks the scale at home, or at a long overdue annual check-up. It may also occur in the dentist’s chair. In a recent conversation with a dentist, she reported that the folks that are coming in for teeth cleaning after months of being home are showing the worst oral health that she has seen in many years.

This is a stressful time for many of us. Seeking comfort and solace sometimes means comfort foods. These are often high in sugars. Just take a look at the expansion of the hot cocoa section in your local grocery store. These dietary choices have consequences such as weight gain, poor oral health and rising levels of inflammation, setting up a cascade leading to, or worsening, chronic health conditions. Essentially, this is the exact wrong direction for many of our patient’s health trajectory.

We recognize that this is a perfect opportunity to share knowledge about the effect of diet on health and how the prevention or mitigation of many of our chronic diseases can be achieved, at least in part, through ingesting a healthy diet. The INM is working to help inspire change related to diet and health and to empower people to live their healthiest lives with two new initiatives.

One initiative the INM recently launched is a Food as Medicine e-book series. Our first e-book, entitled Winter Weather Foods for Immune Support is a curated collection of original recipes for nutritionally packed winter foods. The recipes are combined with nutritional information, beautiful photographs of the prepared dishes, and an informational article on the general subject of the e-book. It includes such recipes as Raw Broccolini with Elderberry Dressing, Vegan Cream of Mycelium – Mushroom Soup, and my favorite take on a comfort food, an Immune Boosting Hot Cocoa! We will be publishing one of these Food as Medicine recipe books every two months.

Our second initiative takes into account that simply delivering nutrition facts doesn’t always lead to enduring learning and changes in behavior. By partnering with the gamification developer 1huddle, we are creating nutritionally-based educational games. 1huddle is a company dedicated to helping improve learning by creating fun, engaging, quick burst game apps that capitalize on our penchant for play and competition. In this case the games help deliver nutritional information to kids and adults.

Why gamify? Standard methods of instruction require many exposures to solidify learning. In the book Making it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter Brown, he stated that the “central part of learning is interrupting forgetting. A recent study of the forgetting curve showed that 70 percent of what we learn is forgotten immediately and the next 30 percent disappears slowly over time.” Gamification creates an interactive and “sticky” way to impart information, so why not use this tendency to underscore the value and importance and specifics of essential nutritional information?

An in-house study by 1huddle divided employees into two groups with one learning by games and the other with an enterprise learning management system with micro-learning modules and videos. Their study showed that the group who learned by games outperformed the LMS group in knowledge retention by 74 percent over 30 days. Interestingly, they showed no sign of a drop off of their knowledge after 10 weeks, unlike the LMS group that continued to show decline in their retained knowledge. 1huddle seems to be on to something and we at INM are intrigued enough to explore the incorporation of this approach into our educational programs.

We will be using these games in our Naturally Well Childhood nutritional education program. This year our program will be virtual for the first time and include nutritionally focused games. We will also incorporate this into our minority health project in North Carolina with the support of Standard Process, Inc. The project focuses on food as medicine with a strong educational component delivered by a licensed naturopathic doctor, and an app-based series of games to deliver information to participants.

At INM, we are ever interested in learning new ways to help educate, empower and transform the lives and health of Americans. If you are interested in subscribing to our e-book and newsletter series to support your healthy meal creation, here is the link: www.betternutrition.com/the-naturopathic-health-hub/food-as-medicine-series-how-can-i-support-my-immune-system-in-the-winter/. Or, if you are interested in helping us trial the gamification app, please let me know at msimon@naturemed.org.

Wishing you all a healthy spring.

Michelle Simon, PhD, ND President & CEO, Institute for Natural Medicine In 1992, the leadership core of naturopathic doctors established the Institute for Natural Medicine (INM) as a not for profit organization dedicated to advancing natural medicine. The purpose of the INM is to increase awareness of, broaden public access to, and encourage research about natural medicine and therapies. Among its milestones the INM counts the launch of the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges (AANMC) as an independent organization, leading California’s efforts to obtain licensure, developing an interactive childhood education program focused on healthy eating and lifestyles called Naturally Well in 2017, and expanding residency access by establishing and funding a residency program in 2018. INM has joined forces with the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), serving as the charitable arm, to deepen access to naturopathic care, public education and research. Dr. Michelle Simon serves as president and CEO of INM, is a licensed naturopathic physician, clinician, educator, and leader in many organizations dedicated to improving the quality and delivery of health care. In addition to holding a naturopathic doctorate from Bastyr University, she also holds a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Simon has served on the boards for the Integrative Healthcare Policy Consortium (IHPC), the AANP and the Naturopathic Physicians Research Institute (NPRI). Dr. Simon also served nine years on the Washington State Health Technology Clinical Committee which is part of the Health Technology Assessment program that examines the scientific evidentiary basis for efficacy, safety and cost effectiveness of health care technologies. She was also an invited participant for health care economics at “Summit on Integrative Medicine and the Health of the Public” at the Institute for Medicine (IOM) in 2009. Dr. Simon was recognized as the 2018 Physician of the Year by the AANP.