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Small choices for a good life

I remember the incident very well even though it happened many years ago. I had an occupational health check and they did a risk test for type 2 diabetes. The score was a little high and the nurse suggested some lifestyle changes that could improve the situation before any health problems arise.

I was completely taken aback – surely I, as a researcher, would know when to take action! When the nurse told me that I had gained approximately one kilo per year since the last check I began to think that maybe I should listen to her, after all.

Whipping yourself does not help much.

Making lifestyle changes is not easy. We can follow strictly regulated exercise programmes and diets for a short while but on the longer term they are more suitable for top athletes than for regular people.

The StopDia project of the Strategic Research Council aims to create methods to help us to make permanent lifestyle changes. Together, experts from different fields have defined health goals and several hundred small choices that translate health recommendations into easy-to-follow instructions. The study participants have access to an application where you can browse and select minimum-effort behaviours, called BitHabits, and mark them as completed.

The problem with wellbeing and health applications is the poor commitment of users.

We are eager to monitor our progress when we are doing well but the smallest obstacle can ruin our good plans. In the StopDia project, the digital intervention is exceptionally long, one year, but the participants have been very committed. In the first six months, the share of active users on weekly level was over 50%, and 1.6 million BitHabits have been reported. 

Controlling the risk together

In addition to the digital application, the StopDia model includes systematic identification of people at risk, group lifestyle coaching, a tool kit for making changes in the environment and paths for change to mould the society. The model has attracted a lot of interest in the research areas, and we have also been contacted by people elsewhere in Europe.

It would be great if there was a pill or a powder for each problem that you could take without giving it another thought. Or if a decision-maker could eliminate all illnesses with a push of a button. Unfortunately this is not the case, and all of us must participate in the fight against type 2 diabetes. Technology can be a great help.

This blog text was originally published in the blog of VTT Technological Research Centre of Finland on 19 September 2018.  

 

Marja Harjumaa

Marja Harjumaa
Senior Researcher
marja.harjumaa(a)vtt.fi
@marjaharjumaa