New Louisiana Company Emer.ge Promises to Change the Way We Think About Our Bodies

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New web app seeks to quantify the impact of media and advertising messages on body image as a first step towards healthy lifestyles.

Given the relevance of body image as a health factor, and the fact that the majority of the general population struggles with body image in some way, we see an incredible opportunity for mobile programs that can measurably improve health behaviors.

By helping people change the way they think about their bodies, an innovative Louisiana company may actually help us treat them better. A new web site called Emer.ge (http://emer.ge) offers a glimpse into the future of apps and games that improve health. The site includes access to The Body Image Voice, a new web application (soon to be mobile) and the first of many health-related apps and games the company is developing.

“The vision of Emerge is to empower individuals to shift focus from unrealistic appearance ideals and move towards health, balance, and optimal performance,” said Tiffany Stewart, Ph.D., Co-Founder of Emer.ge's parent company Body Evolution Technologies. “It seems basic, but science supports the idea that until we regard our bodies better, we won’t treat them better.”

The Emerge web site brings fresh perspective on body image, which can be defined as the way people perceive and experience their bodies. Research shows body image influences eating disorders and obesity. “The Body Image Voice” focuses on a single component of body image - the role media and advertising play in shaping ideals of health and beauty. Users of the app rate the impact of images and ads and help quantify which messages they buy into. The app will also soon be available as a free download in the iTunes store.

“Emer.ge is a platform for apps, games and programs that improve health behaviors,” said Co-Founder Tom Fischmann. The company is establishing partnerships with organizations focused on student health, such as the Delta Delta Delta Fraternity, a leading advocate and sponsor of body image programs for students, whose 15,000 active student members comprise a test population for new apps and games.

College students are the initial target population for the company’s products. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, “One out of every four university-aged women uses unhealthy methods of weight control, such as fasting, skipping meals, excessive exercise, laxative abuse, and self-induced vomiting.”

According to Stewart, the research community is gaining momentum in its efforts to combat eating disorders and other behaviors that prevent individuals from achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. “Obviously, the trend of people moving to the extreme ends of the weight spectrum is concerning. However, there is some cause for optimism. In the past decade, we’ve made significant strides in identifying effective prevention approaches. For the first time, there are programs with data behind them that reduce eating disorder risk factors and improve body image. This is a major step forward.”

This progress is a starting point for applications that aim to improve health on a grand scale. Noting another rapidly escalating trend -- the stratospheric rise of social games and apps -- the company is adapting the best performing offline programs into online and mobile experiences that employ game mechanics and social media to increase the interest in using and sharing the programs. “Given the relevance of body image as a health factor, and the fact that the majority of the general population struggles with body image in some way, we see an incredible opportunity for mobile programs that can measurably improve health behaviors,” said Stewart.
The company licenses evidence-based technology and programs from institutions such as The Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La., a leading research center on nutrition and obesity, whose mission is to discover the triggers of chronic diseases through innovation research that improves human health across the lifespan. With this material as the starting point, Emer.ge partners with developers of apps and games to "gamify" the experiences. The proliferation of games as tools for teaching and behavior change (gamification) is fueled equally by the effectiveness, popularity, and now, ubiquitous access to them.

While body image cuts across all demographic categories, college students are the initial target audience for the products in development. The company is pursuing sponsorships to accelerate the delivery to large student populations. "These programs have proven themselves in research to be beneficial to the students who have received them. We need to get these resources in the hands of students everywhere," said Fischmann. "Brands that are actively pursuing innovations in health will recognize this is a unique opportunity to deliver a deep brand experience that college students and their universities both see as valuable."

About Body Evolution Technologies, Inc.
Emer.ge and The Body Image Voice are created by Body Evolution Technologies, Inc., a private company with offices at The Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge and in the New Orleans BioInnovation Center. The privately held company is backed by Themelios Ventures, LP, InterTech Venture Fund, LP, and several angel investors.

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Sarah Keller
Emerge
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