Sidekick: Health game that triggers our triune brain to make smart choices

Evidence-based and entertaining tool against type 2 diabetes

Sidekick: Health game that triggers our triune brain to make smart choices

The downside of the growing prosperity is a dramatic increase in what are known as lifestyle diseases, particularly type 2 diabetes. Common complications are stroke and myocardial infarction. In addition to major human suffering, it results in huge healthcare and labour market costs.

“The starting point of our innovation work was that both healthcare and employers need to be more involved in prevention, and not simply deal with the expensive consequences”, says Saemundur “Sam” Oddson, physician and co-founder of SidekickHealth.

Logic is not enough

They found the solution in a combination of the dramatic spread of smart phones and increased knowledge about the brain:

“It’s called behavioural economics and it is the science of what governs our decisions. We have two systems in the brain. The developed part of the brain is reasoning and analytical. But the triune brain has a very strong system when it comes to rewards, safety, food and group affiliation. In contrast, it makes us take emotional decisions, based on rewards, in terms of our lifestyle and our health. It’s not enough for doctors to talk to the analytical part – to achieve change, you must reach the emotional system, and that is what we’ve succeeded in doing with SidekickHealth.”

Rewards that stimulate

Accessing the reward mechanisms requires gamification. A team of doctors as well as experts in behavioural economics, gamification and smartphone technology, have identified what the end user now experiences as a social health game: an app on their phones. The app gives rewards for completing health-promoting tasks in terms of diet, exercise and stress reduction, and the user keeps track of their medical variables.

“But the game is just the tip of the iceberg”, stresses Sam Oddson. “Behind the scenes there is a web portal where our customers – particularly employers and healthcare providers in the US – can organise, motivate and coach large groups of users at a low cost.”

A global and growing market

The market is huge. In the United States, companies that work with diabetes prevention among their employees are subsequently paid by the insurance companies. The innovation has attracted attention, and among its investors is one of the managing directors of Google.

“But the problem is increasing on a global level and our ambition is to become world-leading in the field”, says Sam Oddson. Since SidekickHealth was launched at the turn of the year, tens of thousands of users have together completed more than a million health-promoting tasks. On average, users perform 10 exercises a day and eat 77 per cent less sugar. All we do is evidence-based and scientifically proven, our platform is exclusive and we’re ready to take it to the next level, but we need resources in order to scale up.”

Updated: 12 June 2017

Text: Jörgen Olsson