Eating Disorder App Designed For High School Kids Catching Fire

By John Lavitt 06/26/14

Previous versions of High School Story have dealt with other teen issues like cyberbullying.

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With eating disorders on the rise, prevention tactics have taken a new direction with the development of mobile phone apps directly marketed toward teen girls and boys.

Pixelberry, the makers of High School Story, have designed a game to both appeal to the zeitgeist of teen culture while addressing the risks of eating disorders. According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), over 30 million people in the United States suffer from some form of eating disorder. To address this growing problem, High School Story has combined gaming with traditional prevention tactics to prevent the onset of negative body perception issues in teens.

Working in conjunction with NEDA, the makers tried to formulate a game that would help teen girls recognize, confront, and hopefully overcome their body image issues. With over 10 million players, High School Story offers interactive scenarios that show teens how to avoid diet culture and body hatred. Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa have a strong biological element. Such biological predisposition triggers extreme dieting and the resulting reduction in calories ignites the progress of a deadly disease.

In a sample story from High School Story, a player is introduced to a cheerleader who suffers from anorexia. By seeing how her disorder is triggered when she overhears a comment by a football player regarding her body, a player of the game gains awareness about and insight into a disorder. By understanding how words and actions can be potentially damaging, High School Story addresses body image problems head-on with the courage to be on the front lines of the battle against eating disorders. If players want additional information on eating disorders and strategies on how to talk about such problems to an adult, the app offers external support resources.

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 gameplay to negatively contribute to pre-existing eating disorder difficulties. Still, Miao stressed the app's importance in helping others understand body image issues.

“By playing our body image quests, players gain a better understanding of where body image pressures come from and learn ways of addressing them positively,” said Miao. “Our quests also encourage teens to talk more openly about body image issues and eating disorders with friends and family — which is an important first step in getting help."

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.