Remember playing arcade and video games as a kid? Now, researchers are playing on kids' love for video games by creating interactive games and apps for mobile devices. And, they're doing this to collect research data from patients and to deliver educational information to keep people better informed about their health.
Here at MD Anderson, Alexander Prokhorov, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Behavioral Science, has been using the gaming concept to help people quit smoking. Prohorov's mission is to develop tobacco prevention programs targeted towards children and teens.
His latest invention is not only timely, but industry appropriate. Prokhorov has developed a quit smoking app - available for download at no cost on the Apple iTunes Store -- called Tobacco-Free Teens. The app, designed to help prevent tobacco use and help teens stop smoking, is an animated educational experience created with the teen in mind.
"Our app combines education and entertainment with comics and interactive games," Prokhorov says. "It motivates teens to stay away from tobacco and teaches behavioral skills to help them resist pro-tobacco pressures. Such an approach is much more appealing to youth than text-based instructional tools."
Previously, Prokhorov developed his notable program, ASPIRE, an interactive smoking-prevention program that is reaching teens nationwide.
Using apps as a positive influencer and educator
"With teens spending the majority of their time texting and relying on apps to help them manage their day, Tobacco-Free Teens can be a positive influencer and educator," Prokhorov says.
What teen wouldn't enjoy eliminating obstacles and learning the necessary skills to "up their game" and defeat smoking and ultimately cancer?
Tobacco companies are spending close to $23 million a year in advertising to help promote smoking and tobacco-use, and electronic cigarettes, hookah (water-pipes) are becoming increasingly popular, as are pro-smoking apps.
This can be especially dangerous with adolescents and teens, who are vulnerable to tobacco advertising. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 88% of adult smokers who smoke daily began smoking by age 18.
"Since the tobacco industry uses such aggressive and cunning tactics to pique adolescent interest in their products, by finding ways to message to them in their environment - music and sporting events, the Internet, social media and mobile device technology - we thought our app would be a start to combat the promotional activities of the tobacco industry and other tobacco supporters" Prokhorov says.
With more than 1,000 downloads so far, Prokhorov believes the app can make a big difference in the lives of adolescents.