Google Research Award given to IFRC Healthy lifestyle community

Published: 10 December 2014 23:13 CET

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Ellen Cartmell, IFRC

A Google Research Award was recently presented to IFRC’s Healthy lifestyle community, an online platform for users to help their friends, family and communities reduce their risks of developing noncommunicable diseases by changing risky habits. The award supports cutting-edge research in computer science, engineering, and related fields including online education and social networks.

“We see a lot of potential for MOOCs (massive, open, online courses) to facilitate the outreach to IFRC volunteers and create a dedicated online community,” says Michel Benard of Google Zurich. The committed community envisioned by Benard is exactly what the healthy lifestyle community is striving to achieve.  

The healthy lifestyle community can be used not only to find information on noncommunicable diseases and their risk factors, but also to keep track of individuals’ health goals, plans of action, and achievements. “But it’s not just a tool for people to do a training or to track their activities,” says Dr Ayham Alomari, IFRC’s Senior officer for Community Health and Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs). “What we are aiming is to achieve behaviour change and build community support. We want members to use the community to go beyond supporting themselves and work on supporting others, like loved ones and community members,” he adds. One such member is Srishti Adhikari, a public health student from Nepal who posted: “I want to be a change agent of my community to improve their behaviour and health status”.

The community also includes a behaviour change unit on understanding the stages of change, recognizing them in real-life scenarios, and identifying conditions for successful change.  For Sona Gevorgyan, a community member from Armenia, it is this behaviour change component that makes the difference: “This unit inspired me, made me feel skilful and able to make a change, starting from my own behaviour”.  This component will continue to be improved with the support of the Applied Psychology Department of the University of Geneva.

The healthy lifestyle community is an online adaptation of IFRC’s The healthy lifestyle: noncommunicable disease prevention and control. In 2013, NCDs, i.e. cancer, cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes were responsible for 63 per cent of deaths globally. Fortunately, NCDs are largely preventable, and everyone can reduce their risk by making small changes toward a healthier lifestyle. A healthy lifestyle includes being physically active, avoiding alcohol, eating a healthy diet, and not smoking.  

The Google Research Award comes with USD 50,000 to be used for further development of the project. In addition to continuous improvements to the platform, these funds will be used to support the translation and adaptation of the healthy lifestyle community into Spanish by early 2015. Community members are already excited about the prospect of translations being made available in multiple languages. Jum’atil Fajar posted that he hopes that the community can be translated into Bahasa Indonesia. Other innovation for the course includes interactive games and a mobile application.

The healthy lifestyle community was launched jointly by IFRC’s health and volunteering and youth development departments in June 2014.  Since then it has been viewed more than 31,000 times by people across 179 countries, with most activity coming from India, the Philippines, and the United States.

Join the healthy lifestyle community today or follow it via social media to learn more.