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Hackathon inspires students to think of technology-based solutions to health disparities

A trio of Creighton University health sciences students put their medical, dental and coding skills to work last month at the University’s inaugural Health Sciences Multicultural and Community Affairs (HS-MACA) REACH Hackathon.

Sasha Valley Bastien, a post-baccalaureate medical student, Chidi Ezeokoli, a post-baccalaureate dental student, and Tyresha Pitts, a dental student, designed the FIT 4 U mobile app, a program that provides information and interventions to help users understand potential health risks and how to prevent them.

The two-day hackathon, hosted by Creighton’s RaD Lab, keyed on improving public health outcomes and preventing cardiovascular disease in the African American community, pitting the wiles of high school, college and graduate students into a competition to develop technological platforms to address real-world health challenges and disparities.

“Cardiovascular disease is a devastating cause of health disparities in the African American community in Omaha,” said Sade Kosoko-Lasaki, MD, a professor of surgery, preventive medicine and public health in the School of Medicine and associate vice provost for health sciences. “This Hackathon helps us to promote physical activities as a means of reducing CVD in our community.”

The winning application designed by Bastien, Ezeokoli and Pitts, FIT 4 U, works by asking users to enter some background information to calculate various risk factors for cardiovascular disease and health disparities. With that information, the app then helps users tailor a program for lifestyle changes including improving physical activity and diet.

The app also allows for tracking progress and the creation of a virtual avatar allowing users to compete with friends and family also on the app. A rewards plan in the app could be used to partner with local organizations and receive discounts on groceries and gym memberships.

Creighton student teams also took second and third place in the Hackathon. Abe Robles and Candace Villard were the runners-up, with Aaron Herridge and Matthew Mordeson finishing in third. A student team from the University of Nebraska at Omaha made up of Deepika Jantz, Deepthi Venkatesh and Vivek Bhat finished fourth.

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