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UOWD trio develop award-winning mobile app to help fight obesity

Tuesday, 9 April, 2013

A team of three University of Wollongong in Dubai (UOWD) students has developed an award-winning mobile app, which will help fight obesity through social interactions.

Hassan Bello, Murtaza Waheed and Ashiq ur Rahman are the students behind Cenna, the innovative app that is already attracting national recognition. The team has recently been awarded second prize at the prestigious Microsoft Imagine Cup UAE, and were crowned winners of the Purpose Award for the ‘Most socially impactful, economically viable and sustainable business idea’ at the Business 4 Change Conference, led by Pepsico and Al Ahli Group CSR Division.  

The term Cenna is inspired by the Latinized name of the great Muslim scholar, Ibn Sina or Avicenna, often known as the Father of Modern Medicine. The app places social interaction at the forefront of the fight against obesity, along with other fundamental tools such as diet and exercise-tracking, to achieve a healthy lifestyle.

“In our research phase, we observed that social issues such as stress and depression experienced by most obese people seem to be caused mainly due to a lack of understanding of their goals,” commented Hassan Bella, a Computer Science student at UOWD, and developer of the application.  “This lack of understanding enforces a psychological barrier for the individual. Based on research, we proposed that a community of support, especially from other obese individuals, can definitely help fight obesity, kind of like a ‘support group’ but online.”

“The social interaction is divided into three groups,” said Murtaza Waheed, a Management Information Systems (MIS) student at the University who handled the databases for the application. “One group is anonymous, a second group is public and a third one is experts. The anonymous group allows users to share personal stories, while protecting their identity from judgment or scrutiny. The public group, in contrast, allows users to share stories about their progress and compete with their friends and other members of the community in reducing weight. Finally, the experts group is where the users have direct access to health and fitness experts who can respond to their queries.”

The remaining components of the application offer recommendations for diet and exercise, providing a daily log of the activities that the users can add to track their progress. Users are also rewarded for making healthier choices to keep them motivated.

“Cenna was not an epiphany,” said Ashiq ur Rahman, an Accounts major at the University and primary designer of the application. “It was inspired by the difficulties the team has been battling themselves, along with many others - friends, families and loved ones - to live healthy lifestyles and to make the right choices to stay fit.”

Mentored by Mr Geoff Roe of the CSR Al Ahli Group, Cenna is already attracting commercial interest and is being supported by high-profile businesses in the application testing phase.

Speaking of their accolades to date, Murtaza said, “Winning the Purpose Award has been very motivating, we’ve met some inspirational people who have given us the support and momentum to keep working on this project. Taking second place at the Imagine Cup was a privileged and our ambition is to reach the international finals next year.”

The trio came together following their work in pairs on other technology-based projects. Ms Zeenath Khan from the Faculty of Computer Science and Engineering at UOWD commented, “The diversity of the team that includes a computer science major, MIS major and accounts major proves our students’ versatility, and the decision to develop an application to help fight obesity shows our students’ maturity and understanding of the seriousness of this problem which has become a major health risk for adults and children living in the UAE.”