InCHIP PI Hart Blanton Featured on CNBC

April 19, 2016

InCHIP Principal Investigator and Professor of Psychological Sciences Hart Blanton has been researching the connections between video games and health messages. Although the relationship between online gaming and health promotion may not seem intuitive, new research shows that video games can work for health messages (e.g., Public Service Announcements) as gamers who feel comfortable in such virtual, immersive worlds are subsequently more relaxed and open to health suggestions. “There’s a lot of literature on what’s a healthy environment,” says Blanton. “I think we need to start thinking about what is a healthy virtual environment.”

Blanton - Screenshot
Screenshot of a video game with an anti-DUI PSA
Credit: Christopher Burrows

To illustrate, Blanton and colleagues embed PSAs, such as anti-DUI posters, within naturally-occurring settings of virtual environments, such as a room in the Department of Motor Vehicles. This context keeps health messages relevant, transparent and authentic – qualities that young gamers prefer. The studies by Blanton and Christopher Burrows, a graduate student and webmaster in the Department of Psychological Sciences, revealed that deeply-immersed gamers received health messages more strongly than their less-engaged peers. Blanton attributes this finding to the enticing and participatory nature of video games. “When people get wrapped up and involved in these games, they’re cooperating with that environment. They want for that experience to be real, and so they’re too wrapped up in that experience to also engage in all those thoughts that would cause them to dismiss a message,” Blanton explained.

Despite the promise of this emerging scientific field, researchers also acknowledge the reputation of gaming for promoting violence. In response, adds Blanton, “There’s no preventing these games from being important and a large part of the lives of many young Americans. Given that, we might start thinking about ways in which they [gamers] might interact with worlds that reinforce other messages.”

The full article on CNBC, Scientists are creating video games with health PSAs, can be found here.

InCHIP PI Linda Pescatello Quoted in Runner’s World

April 14, 2016

InCHIP PI and Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor Linda Pescatello
InCHIP PI and Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor Linda Pescatello

As the number of companies offering DNA testing to everyday athletes increases (e.g., Athletigen, DNAFit, or FitnessGenes), as does skepticism in the scientific community concerning the validity of the results. Most DNA testing companies promise to assess genes related to muscle development, recovery time, and injury risk, but genetics researchers say that the claims from such testing outpace the available evidence. Linda Pescatello, Ph.D., who has spent years trying to decipher the DNA code underlying sports performance in her laboratory, says that while DNA does influence such outcomes as body-fat percentages, the code underlying sports performance has proved far harder to crack. Pescatello elaborates to say that in some cases, genes shown in one study to influence athletic traits do not hold up to further scientific scrutiny. In other cases, the effects of the mutations that scientists do understand pale in comparison to those that they don’t. Pescatello predicts that it will be decades before scientists truly understand genetics well enough to derive useful, specific, and DNA-informed guidance on athletic training.

Click here for the full article from Runner’s World.

BioCHIP Scientists Discuss New Center’s Potential

March 31, 2016

BioCHIP is a new center within the Institute for Collaboration on Health, Intervention, and Policy (InCHIP) that is bringing InCHIP behavioral scientists together with a team of UConn scientists – from pharmacy, chemistry, and electrical and computer engineering – that has devoted almost two decades to developing a fully implantable glucose monitor for diabetics.

BioCHIP scientists will work together to make the novel device as user-friendly and beneficial as possible for patients with obesity and/ or diabetes and their medical providers alike, so it ultimately produces optimal long-term health benefits.

Here, in this video, the scientists at the center of the new collaboration discuss its benefits in their own words:

 

Online Weight Loss Game Appeals to Elusive Young Adults

By Beth Krane

An online weight loss game designed with input from UConn Associate Professor of Allied Health Sciences Tricia Leahey is reaching a critical, but extremely elusive, target audience: young adults ages 18 to 35.

Despite being at high risk for obesity, young adults represent only seven percent of those enrolled in traditional weight loss programs and the few who do enroll have poorer engagement and weight loss than older adults, said Leahey, an Institute for Collaboration on Health, Intervention, and Policy (InCHIP) Principal Investigator. As a result, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently issued a statement highlighting the urgent need for appealing and effective weight loss programs for this age group.

One promising answer to NIH’s call is the web site, DietBet.com, for which Leahey serves as Chief Scientific Officer. DietBet.com uses gaming principles, such as challenges, nominal monetary prizes and social interaction, to motivate participants to lose weight. In contrast to traditional weight loss programs, almost half of DietBet.com’s more than 150,000 users are young adults. More than half of those who participated in Leahey’s recent study of the online game’s effectiveness were young adults and almost 40 percent of them reached their 10 percent weight loss goal.

Leahey will present the study’s findings this Thursday, March 31st at the Society of Behavioral Medicine’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

“Young adults want online programs with engaging features,” said Leahey, whose weight loss interventions borrow from behavioral economics theory. “We’re playing off the popularity of sports web sites where people can draft their own fantasy teams and pool money for pay-outs.”

DietBet.com offers two categories of weight loss games. Those who join as “KickStarters” play for one month with a goal of losing four percent of their body weight. The “Transformers,” whom Leahey studied, play for six months with a goal of losing 10 percent of their body weight. Leahey said those in the first group tend to play with a short-term goal in mind, such as getting ready for beach season or a special event. Those in the second, longer session tend to have more to lose – and also more to gain in terms of long-term health benefits such as preventing diabetes and heart disease.

Each DietBet.com group has two or more players who pay $25 per month (for the Transformers) or $35 for the one month (for the KickStarters). Players’ money is pooled together at the outset and used for monthly pay-outs for those participants who meet pre-specified weight loss goals (Month One: three percent body weight, Month Two: six percent body weight, etc.).

During the game, players interact on the platform, uploading updates about their progress, posting pictures, “cheering,” posting/liking comments, and viewing each other’s weight loss via the leaderboard. Photo- and video-based weigh-in procedures are used to verify weights.

“We’re trying to make weight loss more fun, more social, more appealing,” Leahey said.

From the end of 2013 to early 2015, a total of 7,950 Transformers (those in the six-month game) participated in Leahey’s study. In contrast to those enrolled in traditional behavioral weight loss programs, 56 percent of the participants in the DietBet.com study were young adults. They completed an average of 36.9 posts (either weigh-ins or social interactions) and lost an average of 6.3% of their body weight. Moreover, 37% of the young adults in the study met their goal of losing 10 percent of their body weight.

Another promising finding from the study is that the older adults who participated in the game boasted similar successes: they averaged 35.3 posts and also lost an average of 6.3 percent of their body weight.

“The web site offers a much more current way to lose weight and appeals to young and old users alike,” Leahey said. “There really is nothing else like it on the market.”

Leahey’s study, which received a citation award from the Society of Behavioral Medicine, did not receive any funding from DietBet.com or its parent company, WayBetter Inc.

InCHIP Director Recognized by New England Board of Higher Education

March 15, 2016

InCHIP Director Jeffrey Fisher received the Connecticut State Merit Award from the New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE) at its “Honoring Excellence 2016” ceremony in Boston on March 4th. The following is an excerpt from an article announcing the award recipients in the NEBHE’s Journal of Higher Education in advance of the event. (The article was published before CHIP became InCHIP).

InCHIP Director Jeffrey Fisher
InCHIP Director Jeffrey Fisher

“Jeffrey Fisher, director of the Center for Health, Intervention, and Prevention (CHIP) at the University of Connecticut, will receive the Connecticut State Merit Award.

Fisher is founding director of CHIP, a multidisciplinary center for health behavior change research, which has received more than $120 million in external funding for research on health behavior since its founding in 2002.

CHIP began in the late 1980s as the AIDS Risk Reduction Project in response to the rise of HIV as a major threat to life and health. Over time, CHIP has become a multidisciplinary center for the study of health promotion and health behavior change across a number of domains.

InCHIP Director Jeffrey Fisher at the NEBHE awards ceremony with (from left): NEBHE Chair Michael Wool, UConn Vice Provost Sally Reis, Connecticut State Representative Roberta B. Willis and NEBHE President & CEO Michael K. Thomas.
InCHIP Director Jeffrey Fisher (center) at the NEBHE awards ceremony with (from left): NEBHE Chair Michael Wool, UConn Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Sally Reis, Connecticut State Representative Roberta B. Willis and NEBHE President & CEO Michael K. Thomas.

Fisher has an extensive background in health behavior change research, intervention design, implementation and evaluation, and has published extensively in these fields.

He has received about $25 million in external funding as a Principal Investigator for this research. Fisher is the co-author of the Information-Motivation-Behavioral Skills model of health behavior change, which has been widely adopted internationally in the context of conceptual and intervention work on health behavior change. He has designed, implemented, and evaluated effective health behavior change interventions in multiple populations, and in multiple health domains, with an emphasis on HIV prevention interventions in populations at risk for HIV.

In recent years, CHIP researchers have launched major initiatives in HIV prevention, medical adherence, autism, diabetes management, cancer prevention, obesity, pharmacology, substance abuse and treatment, health information technology, health communication, dissemination and implementation science, health disparities, exercise science, international health, and complementary and alternative medicine.”

InCHIP Director’s Visit to University in Oman Highlighted

InCHIP Director Jeffrey Fisher traveled to Oman earlier this semester to meet with administrators at Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) to discuss potential health behavior change research collaborations between InCHIP and SQU. The first proposed joint project would be to design a tailored diabetes prevention intervention. His visit was the subject of a feature article on SQU’s web site and an interview with him in the SQU newsletter Horizon.

 

 

InCHIP Director Jeffrey Fisher meets with H.H. Sayyidah Dr. Mona bint Fahad Al Said, SQU Assistant Vice Chancellor for International Cooperation, Esra Alkhasawneh, Dean of the College of Nursing, and Dr. Hamed Al Sinawi, Senior Consultant, Department of Behavioural Medicine, SQU Hospital.
InCHIP Director Jeffrey Fisher meets with H.H. Sayyidah Dr. Mona bint Fahad Al Said, SQU Assistant Vice Chancellor for International Cooperation, Esra Alkhasawneh, Dean of the College of Nursing, and Dr. Hamed Al Sinawi, Senior Consultant, Department of Behavioural Medicine, SQU Hospital.

InCHIP PI Tricia Leahey Penned Article for U.S. News and World Report

March 10, 2016

InCHIP PI and Associate Professor of Allied Health Sciences Tricia Leahey
InCHIP PI and Associate Professor of Allied Health Sciences Tricia Leahey

InCHIP Principal Investigator and Associate Professor of Allied Health Sciences Tricia Leahey was invited to write an article for U.S. News and World Report’s health blog, Eat + Run, which features expert nutrition and fitness advice daily. In the article published today, Leahey, whose weight loss and maintenance interventions apply principles from behavioral economics, such as using financial incentives and the novelty factor, discussed the best motivators for successful and sustained weight loss.

InCHIP PI Valerie Duffy Quoted in USA Today Article

A recent USA Today article about the senses of smell and taste dulling as people age – and the serious trouble this can cause – quoted InCHIP Principal Investigator and Professor of Allied Health Sciences Valerie B. Duffy, an expert in related research: “…it can lead to dangerous weight loss in some frail elders, while leading others to gorge on unhealthy sweet, salty or fatty foods – always hoping the  next bite will taste better.” The article also cited one of the Duffy’s recent studies, which found that 19 percent of surveyed adults over age 40 reported problems with taste and 23 percent reported problems with smell. Of surveyed adults over age 80, 27 percent reported problems with taste and 32 percent reported problems with smell.

InCHIP PI C. Michael White Interviewed by Business Insider and Fox 61

InCHIP PI C. Michael White, who also is Professor and Department Head of UConn’s Department of Pharmacy Practice and Co-Director of UConn HOPES within InCHIP, recently discussed prescription drug shortages with Business Insider. White also regularly appears on Fox 61’s Ask the Pharmacist feature. He  addressed the differences between biological and traditional drugs in one recent segment and the connection between sleep and heart disease and the appropriate use of sleep medications in another recent segment with Fox 61.