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Students design health-themed social network

BY ALAN TOUSSAINT | APRIL 28, 2011 7:20 AM

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Two University of Iowa students want to help people achieve their health goals — just by helping them check in with others.

Seniors Arunan Arivalagan, the CEO, and Sean Ephraim, chief technology officer, have worked together since February to create a social networking site called CheckMates. They hope to launch the site in July.

The website aims to bring people together; ideally, users will "meet" online and help each other achieve their goals, like quitting smoking and exercising more.

"We're trying to approach it now so that people will have access to the website, so that they won't have to pay anyone else for their problem," Arivalagan said.

The concept is relatively simple. Users can choose what information they want to enter in relation to their goals and then check-in on a regular basis. For example, a graph shows a user how many cigarettes he or she had in a day, then tracks his or her progress toward a goal.

Partners can check each other's information and offer encouragement. The site also has a chat feature.

According to the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics, 20 percent of adults are smokers. And four out of 10 current smokers attempted to stop smoking in the year prior to the results being released in 2007.

Arivalagan said he's seen firsthand how peer pressure can influence even adults' smoking habits.

"Two of my friends smoked together, and when one of them went back home, he stopped smoking," Arivalagan said.

And seeing his friend quit prompted the idea.

"When people are paired up with similar problems, they can help each other out and cut down their use of smoking and even stop altogether," Arivalagan said.

Ephraim said the main goal of the website is to work on people with smoking problems and to tackle people who have health problems.

"CheckMates provides tools to work toward the goal," Ephraim said.

Human toxicology graduate student Senthil Perumal Kuppusamy, who researchs cancer, is working with the two on the website, mainly on the health aspect.

"I help challenge people and motivate them on how they can cut down smoking," Perumal Kuppusamy said. "When people go to work out, they're not doing it alone."

He said he knew of a few classmates who used to have a hard time with smoking in groups.

Despite excitement for the idea, the creators said they've had to deal with challenges. Some people told them no one would use such a site and setting up the actual website proved difficult as well.

"It's more than for profit, we're doing something good in the community," Arivalagan said.


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