Can Digital Vaccines prevent Lifestyle Diseases?

Bhargav Sri Prakash
5 min readMar 9, 2017

Have you ever wondered about the phenomenon of “comfort foods”? It appears that the emotional context in which we are introduced to certain foods remains deeply entrenched in the memory, and therefore early childhood foods / tastes & smells can often trigger the same emotions (warmth, security) that one encounters during childhood.

Food habits and preferences at an early age tend to remain embedded within the minds of an individual, often invoking positive association through nostalgic imprints within their lifelong memories.

It is therefore important that we look at the role of foods in early childhood, to help create habits that could prevent obesity. Growing evidence supports the influence of the media on health outcomes tied to Childhood Obesity and lifestyle diseases.

Children often tend to be a strategic choice of target demographic for advertising products that cater to them or to young families. It is logical to maximize the Lifetime Value of customers who are engaged with a company’s brand from their childhood.

According to a recent publication by the World Health Organization, there is unequivocal evidence that Childhood Obesity is influenced by marketing of processed food and non-alcoholic beverages that are high in saturated fat, salt and/or free sugar (HFSS). Children across the world increasingly access digital media avidly, predominantly on mobile devices, generally favoring social media and video viewing sites for mixed audiences.

Digital marketing (including for HFSS foods) can amplify the impact of advertising in traditional media, thereby achieving greater ad attention and recall, greater brand awareness and more positive brand attitudes, leading to greater ‘intent to purchase’ and higher product sales.

Digital platforms can collect extensive personal data from Internet users to deliver behavioral advertising, targeting audiences with precision and unfortunately for our most vulnerable, there is little effective regulation to protect children from this practice. Digital marketing also tends to engage children in emotional, entertaining experiences and to encourage them to share these experiences with their friends.

The algorithms of the major platforms give preference to less overt, longer-viewed advertisements (ads), thus bypassing any media literacy children might have and amplifying the power of practices in traditional media. These advertisements are designed based on Psychology to deliver the greatest impact on the brand.

From a Global Health perspective this approach from the media must be countered to address the growing epidemic of lifestyle diseases, which are known to be a result of sedentary lifestyle and greater consumption of processed HFSS. The displacement of traditional diets and food cultures have been linked to the influence of the media on children.

Medical Prevention Strategies

Vaccines are known to be the modern medicine’s preventative strategy for a wide spectrum of diseases. They are always developed as a result of a sequence of Clinical Trials that progress from theoretical models, animals and then to humans. Typically Vaccine development takes an average of 25 years and involves evidence-backed scientific methods that are tested at scale and over a diverse population.

The intersection between Neuroscience and Behavior Design is an emerging framework for thinking about strategies to reduce the risk of lifestyle diseases, which is at the center of what we do at FriendsLearn. Behavior Design can become even more powerful when focused upon influencing preferences at an early stage in life, when lifelong habits take root.

This is supported by longitudinal evidence of the impact of the quality of primary education content, structure and methods, in the first few years of life. This exposure through early education is known to be a crucial period in predicting individual lifetime outcomes. As a potent combination of rapid cognitive, emotional and social development, this period of early life is significant for establishing a foundation for lifelong food and lifestyle habits.

“fooya!” is a mobile App that harnesses immersive 3D gaming virtul reality based technologies and machine learning to deliver personalized behavior reinforcement and health education for children and adolescents, through breakthroughs in learning focused entertainment (“Learnification”).

Learnification is the underlying technique of education, which contextually embeds learning loops within entertainment, especially games, to maximize levels of user engagement and retention. Through the creation of this evidence-backed technology intervention that embeds lifestyle behaviors, there is increasing evidence of the persistent influence of such an intervention upon longitudinal food habits.

These statistically significant outcomes have been shown during multiple randomized and controlled clinical trials done by researchers at the Baylor College of Medicine’s Children’s Nutrition Research Center, Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for Communication Programs and other groups of independent researchers.

“fooya!” demonstrates that statistically significant health outcomes can be achieved as the result of the compelling narrative-driven gaming-enabled immersive 3D user experiences, which incorporate metabolic science, Nutrition, Neuroscience and Psychology, to leave a cognitive imprint about healthier lifestyles in the minds of children.

This has been shown to empower children to self-regulate food choices through greater levels of self-awareness, even as the technology allows them to be positively influenced by their peers as a result of competitive game compulsion loops and social mechanisms. This can positively condition nutrition-lifestyle behaviors at scale, to meet a goal of preventing non-communicable disease, reducing risk of obesity/malnutrition along with associated health risks, and increasing cognitive ability among children, as a result of better nutrition.

The key question about a solution that is worth pursuing remains, whether an evidence backed approach mechanistically supports a method to developing a personalized “Digital Vaccine” candidate in “fooya!”, powered by a future of increasingly compelling trends in Artificial Intelligence and immersive gaming?



Bhargav Sri Prakash

Creating entertainment to shape our world @friendslearn @fooya #socialimpact #fooya #health #kids #nutrition #digitalvaccine #medical #neuroscience #technology