Eating Disorders App for Teens

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are on the rise, and in response to this prevention tactics have taken a new direction with the development of a mobile phone app that has been marketed toward teen girls and boys. With over 30 million people in the United States alone suffering from some form of eating disorder according to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), the makers of the game known as High School Story are looking to use the app to slow the development of negative body image in teens.

Recent studies have shown that disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa have a strong biological element and that individuals have to be genetically predisposed in order to suffer from them. This biological predisposition is then stimulated by a reduction in calories which is considered to be an important environmental cue for what can turn into a deadly illness. The reason that negative body image is considered to contribute to these disorders is because it is this dissatisfaction with bodyweight which generally leads to dieting. Dieting means a restriction in calories, and for those that are genetically predisposed to eating disorders any reduction in calorific intake can cause the illness to emerge.

Due to the understanding that negative body image can contribute to the rise in the incidence of disordered eating behaviors, Pixelberry, the makers of High School Story, has worked together with NEDA in order to formulate a game designed to help teen girls overcome their body image issues. High School Story is an app with over 10 million players, and now it includes scenarios which show teens how to avoid diet culture and body hatred. In one of the stories, players are introduced to a cheerleader who suffered from anorexia. Players learn how her disorder is triggered when she overhears a comment by a football player regarding her body.  These scenes are designed to help teens understand the words and actions that can be potentially damaging to others in terms of body image and eating disorders.

According to Pixelberry CEO Oliver Miao, the High School Story developers worked with NEDA professionals to fine tune the app. Changes were made to minimize the potential for the game to actually worsen disordered eating patterns in those that are already suffering and to make sure that the scripts discussed body image in a responsible manner. Miao explained that the app was updated after Pixelberry realized that the incidence of eating disorders was on the rise amongst teenagers and that many do not feel comfortable about their bodies. Although negative body image can be an issue for both boys and girls, it is more prevalent in females.

Earlier this year, Pixelberry partnered with Cybersmile, a not for profit organization which provides help for  victims of cyber bullying and their families. With the input that Cybersmile gave, Pixelberry were able to develop a game that raised awareness of cyber bullying and allowed sufferers to feel less alone. Miao states that after the cyber bullying update was launched Pixelberry received many requests from users for various other issues to be addressed by the game. Body image and related disorders came high on the list of topics that game users felt would be an important update for the app. The app also provides teens with resources in case they want additional information on eating disorders and ideas about how to talk to someone about their problems.

By Tabitha Farrar

High School Story
National Eating Disorder Association
The Boston Globe

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