Winner of the Junior Academy Challenge – Spring 2022 “Building Community to Support Student Mental Health” Sponsored by S&P Global
Published August 24, 2023
Team Members: Catherine L. (Team Lead) (China), Advika S. (India), Cara C. (United States), Snigdha S. (India), Shruthi D. (United States), Shivani D. (India)
Mentor: Katherine Wert (United States)
Many adolescents struggle with mental health issues and a conflicted relationship with food, brought on by a variety of psychological and social factors–including toxic beauty standards, pressure to be thin, stress and hormones. Eating disorders can have a devastating impact on young people’s mental and physical health.
A six-member international team of science-loving high school students were named the winning team in the Junior Academy challenge “Building Community to Support Student Mental Health” with the creation of Nutribona, a feature-rich app specifically aimed at 13 to 18 year-olds with food concerns.
After consulting with experts and conducting a survey among their peers which revealed a significant prevalence of food-related issues, team members designed this app to help users make better daily nutritional choices. In particular, they wanted to raise awareness of the gut-brain axis, the link between food intake/the consumption of specific nutrients and mood/psychological well being.
“As I looked into the psychological aspects of Nutribona, I was able to understand the importance of dealing with such disorders at a young age,” says Snigdha. “I realized how big a role an online community has in our daily lives and I believe we were able to create a design that tackles physical and mental health head-on.”
Nutribona offers several innovative features designed to address food-related disorders, such as healthful recipes– alongside several features addressing harmful behaviors such as excessive exercise, episodes of binge/purge, and binge eating. The app also offers access to anonymous chat spaces where users can share their problems with a supportive community and the ability to reach out to psychologists and nutritionists. Nutribona promotes yoga, a gentle form of exercise that contributes to reducing stress and anxiety and building body strength and flexibility, rather than promoting weight loss. A personal page can be used to track progress. App users can also play games and take part in health-related challenges. “My favorite part of the challenge is that it offered me a chance to go through a complete design process,” explains Catherine, the Team Lead. “The mindset of design thinking really helps me a lot in building solutions, from research, to interviews, to finally testing.”
This ambitious project was the result of intense teamwork under the guidance of an encouraging mentor. “Our team was able to work together and divide tasks equally amongst each other,” states Cara. “We collaboratively tested our ideas together and always asked for feedback to improve our work.” While developing their project, the students felt they learned a lot from each other. “Even now, as the project is over, I find it hard to believe that I was part of this journey, this incredible experience of learning and discovering and thinking and solving,” says Shivani. “I saw ideas form and evolve and turn into something spectacular.”
The six students are exploring ways to make their app available internationally, and are also considering how to make it commercially viable– eventually deciding that it should be supported by ads carefully selected to prevent a negative impact on users, while considering the necessity of charging a small fee later on. “Eating difficulties are a major part of mental health. Eating guilt-free is something that everyone should be able to experience,” believes Shruthi. “Looking at our solution, I feel a sense of pride and achievement,” says Advika. “Together we have created a solution that is not only feasible but also viable in the real world.”