News Release

Developing a serious game for improving youth environmental health literacy

Helping kids understand environmental health risks in the home

Grant and Award Announcement

Dfusion (United States)

California-based researchers from dfusion (Scotts Valley, CA) and San Diego State University have received federal funding to develop and pilot test a serious game, Simulation for Environmental Exposure Education (SE3). Designed for play on mobile devices, SE3 is intended to improve environmental health literacy among middle-school age youth.

The Small Business Innovation Research grant was awarded to dfusion by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences of the National Institutes of Health, Award Number R43ES024563.

Principal Investigator Tamara Kuhn and Multiple Investigator Dr. Neil Klepeis will lead this Phase I project. Kuhn is a research scientist and Vice President at dfusion Inc., a California-based health tech firm that designs apps to improve health outcomes. Dr. Neil Klepeis is an Associate Adjunct Professor at San Diego State University’s Center for Behavioral Epidemiology and Community Health.

The SE3 game will focus on exposure to environmental toxins in the home, where contaminants such as mold, smoke, lead, radon, and carbon monoxide increase the rates of many health conditions, including asthma, inflammation, lead poisoning and cancer. Diseases attributable to environmental risk factors contribute to 36% of all deaths and 34% of the overall disease burden among children 0-14 years of age, a burden that falls disproportionately on economically and disadvantaged minority youth. As Kuhn notes, “given the amount of time children spend in the home, environmental health risk factors in home settings are particularly concerning.”

Improving the environmental health literacy of youth through engaging serious games offers one critical approach to addressing these challenges. Yet to date, environmental themed games for youth have focused primarily on climate change and not on the daily environment youth face. Improving health/health literacy has also not been a key focus. Moreover, few smart games have been scientifically evaluated, designed for use in educational settings, or aligned to educational standards that allow educators to integrate these solutions into their curriculum.

This project addresses this gap, focusing on environmental health literacy among youth as it relates to environmental risks in the home. The proposed 2.5D style simulation game, aligned to education standards, will engage youth in learning as they design the physical and social environments of their own simulated worlds while monitoring environmental elements impacting the health of their characters. SE3 will have embedded real time data displays that inform players with simulated sensor readings for contaminant levels in air, water, soil, surfaces, and bodies of humans and pets. Adverse health effects in response to these contaminants will be represented by animated symptoms in players and non-player characters (family, pets, etc.) Through experiential learning, players will discover personalized solutions to reduce exposure (e.g., opening a window, removing a heater, etc.) and build models and mechanisms of environmental exposure. If effective, the SE3 game will increase youth knowledge and understanding of environmental risks in the home and spur them to take action to reduce their risks, as well as risks to others.

For this Phase I effort, the research team will (a) conduct formative research with the target audience to better understand their interest in and current sources of learning around environmental health, as well as their reaction to the planned game; (b) develop a content outline for the complete game; (c) develop a prototype game, utilizing youth for iterative feedback and testing; and (d) conduct a play test pilot study to assess the impact of the game on knowledge and intentions. Planned future Phase II efforts will include finishing development of the game, revisions based on Phase I testing, and a randomized controlled study to determine effectiveness on improving environmental health literacy, including knowledge and planned action among youth.


The planned research reported here is supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R43ES024563. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute of Health.



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