Fooya! app, now in Indian schools, inculcates healthy diets among children

A 10-year-old is out to save the world from an evil scientist, who has made it his mission to develop machines that shoot processed food out like a laser. Every time she feels tired, she powers up with water (same, girl!) and traditional, local foods.

Since earlier this year, this is the Fooya! universe in which students from schools in Chennai, Mumbai and Delhi have been spending time. The VR game, which can be played in smartphones without headsets as well, has been designed by California-based life science company FriendsLearn, for children between the ages of five and 13.

This year, it is partnering with schools in India to inculcate the idea of a healthy diet lifestyle from a young age. The idea of the game is to fight against advertising of processed junk food which later in life could lead to diabetes, hypertension and heart diseases. And it is all done through neurocognitive training.

“Before they have even begun to speak, children are being introduced to advertisements,” says founder Bhargav Sri Prakash. “They are made to develop this warm fuzzy association with sugar, cereals and colas. They become associated with celebration, and processed food is called a ‘happy meal.’ Habits get formed early in life, so the seeds of life long diet risks develop in childhood.”

Fooya! app, now in Indian schools, inculcates healthy diets among children

What Fooya! attempts to do is remove these associations by drawing children into a universe where packaged and processed food is the enemy — robots are inspired by vending and soda machines. To make it immersive, the game is in VR, and allows children to develop their character’s personality, right from the looks to the skills.

“We don’t outrightly tell the children what is good or bad. They come to their own realisation by experiencing what their characters are going through,” explains Bhargav. Depending on what they eat, their characters’ abilities, shapes, skills and health parameters like vision and speed change. “So they experience the consequence of their choice. It is all about staying in balance, in the fit zone.”

Digital vaccines
  • In the future, medicine will not be in the form of a pill. Instead, technology will act as preventive medicine, claims Bhargav. “We are shaping a subcategory called digital vaccines. Your regular vaccines are generally used to fight infectious diseases. Through this we can prevent lifestyle diseases using neuroscience.” Even the fight against Coronavirus, he says, is a question of inducing positive behaviours such as practising good hygiene and washing hands regularly.

Bhargav has worked with university partners Carnegie Mellon, Johns Hopkins and Stanford to publish research, and conducts randomised trials on the link between neuropsychology and resulting food behavior-habit formation in children. For the engineering graduate, the journey into children’s health has been extremely personal.

Fooya! app, now in Indian schools, inculcates healthy diets among children

“I started this company in 2011. This project became an obsession after becoming a parent in 2009 and realising how much advertising influences children’s habits and preferences,” he says. Formerly in tech, and then working in a hedge fund, he left a career in finance for this company.

The Research and Development centre for this app is here in the city in Taramani, and he is now bringing his technology to Indian schools.

“Once a school commits to becoming a health partner, it gets access to our content (the game) at a discounted price. The game is grade specific, it is equivalent to getting class-appropriate textbooks,” he says.

First download for Fooya! is free, and is available on Play Store and App Store.

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Printable version | Jun 23, 2021 2:29:21 AM |

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