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One small step at a time towards better health

For many people, a less sedentary lifestyle with more exercise is the simplest way to improving their health. During two hot summer months in 2018, 250 people tested Länsförsäkringar’s Lev Friskare (healthier living) app. The result: a 20% average increase in activity, with a full 70% of users meeting Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare recommendations.

Exercise has many positive health effects, both physical and mental. One is that we lose weight, thus reducing the risk of obesity-related conditions such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

That said, as we are all only too aware, knowing something and putting it into practice are two different things. This is something that Länsförsäkringar wants to change. One such attempt is their healthier living app Lev Friskare, a result of an innovation workshop arranged by Länsförsäkringar in 2017 with support from RISE and the co-creation method. Over the course of the workshop, 724 ideas were whittled down to 70, then to 14 until, eventually, three were selected for development and testing in pilot projects.

A dozen experts then worked for a week at Länsförsäkringar’s head office in Stockholm on a design sprint process, which was then built on, modified, refined and pretested for three months prior to the summer 2018 test with 250 Länsförsäkringar customers in Gothenburg, Bohus County and Kronoberg.

“The results were incredibly positive. In total, 70% of users achieved the Swedish Board of Health and Welfare’s recommended level of physical activity, with a 20% average increase in exercise. This despite the fact that the test was conducted during two of the hottest months ever experienced in Sweden,” says Niklas Huss, innovation manager at Länsförsäkringar.

Small challenges entices activity

There were already many training apps available on the market; however, for many people, going straight from inactivity to regular training is too great a step.

­“The question was how we could create something to compete with the couch, television, tablet, candy bowl and other quick rewards once people finish work,” explains Niklas Huss.

The answer proved to be by setting small challenges that, without demanding a great deal of time, motivate the user by offering a reward in the form of leaves that allow them to climb to higher levels on the app’s digital tree of life.

“The app triggers behaviour such as using the stairs instead of the lift, getting off the bus one stop earlier to walk the final leg, or choosing walking meetings. For every goal achieved during the day, a leave is awarded, and achieving the goals for five consecutive days takes you to the next level and your tree of life grows in the app,” says Niklas Huss.

In order to further trigger and stimulate users, Länsförsäkringar planted real trees in Africa as milestones were achieved in the app. An internal competition was also held, with the three most active users displayed, as well as a competition between Länsförsäkringar’s regional offices in Gothenburg & Bohus and Kronoberg based on average activity.

"One important experience gained is that people have different triggers. Some enjoy the competition, while others want to have a positive impact on the environment through tree planting. For some, it is enough to cultivate their own tree of life and observe their own progress,” says Niklas Huss.

Niklas Huss
Niklas Huss, innovation manager at Länsförsäkringar.

Important to create long-term habits

A final report has now been submitted to Länsförsäkringar’s business department, where these insights and lessons will be put to further use.

Even if it is likely that a forthcoming app will only use some of the content rather than be an exact replica of the pilot project, Niklas Huss has also raised the idea to a European level; firstly, with Eurapco, an alliance of leading European mutual insurance companies and secondly, with the EU-supported EIT Health network of best-in-class health innovators (of which RISE is a core partner).

The concept behind EIT Health is to propagate knowledge about what makes people change their behaviour and investigate how they can adopt good habits that provide long-term health benefits.

“And through Eurapco, we want to offer the app or a development thereof to many more Europeans. Whether this is to customers of other insurance companies or via open access remains to be seen,” says Niklas Huss.

According to Niklas Huss, there is high demand for proactive services that can encourage a larger proportion of the population to live more active, healthier lives. One reason for this is the inability of healthcare services to cope with care needs rooted in sedentary lifestyles. Naturally, another is the desire to reduce human suffering.

“A discussion is ongoing as to which services we will be able to provide, given our conviction that these are needed. Society must shift its focus from reactive to proactive measures. Personally, I would like to see some form of state health defence budget to educate people about how they can prevent physical and mental ill health and even to offer preventative services.

App for preventing mental illness

Länsförsäkringar’s own next contribution will be an app that allows users to self-evaluate to keep better track of their own mental health.

“This will be tested among our employees in April. They will be asked to answer five questions each day, on topics such as how they are sleeping or how their private life is going. After a while, the user will be able to see if the trend is positive or negative. If the trend is negative, it will be possible to do something about it before it leads to burnout or other psychosocially rooted sick leave. Taken together, these currently account for half of all sick leave,” says Niklas Huss.

Published: 2019-02-21