A trial conducted by the Bradley Hasbro Children’s Research Center and funded by the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development has begun testing the usability and efficacy of a new web-based video game targeted at children with food allergies.
32 children between the ages of 8 and 12 have been enrolled in an open trial in which families will be prompted to use the software three times a week for four weeks. The goal of the game is to increase knowledge and self-efficacy in managing the disease and by doing so decrease the risk of serious allergic reactions.
“Pediatric food allergy is a serious health issue that now affects approximately 4 to 8 percent of children. Yet, very few resources for children exist to promote effective management strategies,” said Elizabeth McQuaid, PhD, a staff psychologist for the Bradley Hasboro Children’s Research Center leading the team. “Most resources targeting those with food allergies provide support through groups or via the web, and typically focus on parents, with few resources designed for affected children.”
The game progresses the child through a series of virtual scenarios designed to teach allergen avoidance, symptom detection and reaction management. Examples include scenarios where the child is offered a questionable food item in a school cafeteria and must negotiate pressure to accept it, navigating a virtual food pantry by reading labels to decide which are safe, and scenes that teach addressing bullies and the identification of symptoms.
Playing the game and exercising good judgement earns the child points which they can then use to trade for decorations in their virtual space.
“With the feedback we receive from these trial families regarding efficacy, engagement, and ease of use, we can improve the intervention content and games, so we can better plan future versions, incorporating social scenarios such as birthday parties, family picnics, and other events where children with food allergies face disease management challenges,” said Josh Spitalnick, Ph.D., psychologist and vice president of research at Virtually Better, Inc., the firm developing the software for the game. “This initial software program will act as a template, so that in the future we can offer an interactive and engaging program for children with other food allergies beyond the peanut specific trial game, as well as other chronic conditions requiring self-management, such as asthma, diabetes, and celiac disease.”