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Preventive work for better public health and changed eating habits

Unhealthy consumption of food is one of the biggest risk factors for poor health and premature death in Sweden. Prevention Impact Lab is a concept whereby RISE is combining applied research with digital innovation for the purpose of preventing poor health. Its main focus is on increasing physical activity and improving the dietary habits of the population.

The World Health Organization, the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare and the Public Health Agency of Sweden all agree that the primary factors behind ill health are a lack of physical activity and poor dietary habits. People who do not exercise and have an unhealthy diet run a greater risk of developing metabolic syndrome, which involves abdominal obesity, lipid disorders, high blood pressure and elevated blood sugar levels. That, in turn, increases the risk of common diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and many forms of cancer.

There is much interest in preventive measures within the public sector, as well as from private care companies, insurance companies and other types of organisations that work with public health in one way or another. Within the scope of the Prevention Impact Lab concept, RISE hopes to contribute applied research to the various initiatives underway in this area.

– “Prevention Impact Lab is an important initiative that covers such things as behavioural design, evidence-based intervention and behavioural markers,” says Aslak Felin, Senior Project Manager at RISE.

Pilot project on dietary habits

Efforts have been underway to set up Prevention Impact Lab over the last two years and several pilot projects have been run simultaneous to this. One of them focuses on dietary habits and it is a collaboration between EIT Health, academia, insurance companies and the Belgian food chain, Colruyt, along with its spin-off, SmartWithFood.

– “For this project, RISE has developed an app, which people can use to get inspiration about, and help them maintain, good dietary habits,” says Aslak Felin.

Prior to starting up the pilot project, the participants were asked to complete a questionnaire and also provide blood samples. Those assessed as at risk for metabolic syndrome were given access to the app. They were then able to use it for meal kit delivery services and recipes for easy, healthy dishes. It has also been possible to use the app for chats with a health coach and get daily tasks having to do with diet and exercise.

– “Everything is based on the individual’s needs and capacity. Each person receives a health plan specifically designed for them and aimed at moving them out of the risk zone,” says Aslak Felin.

Allt utgår från individens behov och kapacitet

Friends providing support

The participants were also able to invite some friends, and have them use the app too. The idea behind that is having people act as cheerleaders for each other. That’s because research has shown how important it is to have the support of others when a person is trying to change their habits.

In Sweden, too, there is much interest in the project, not least within the grocery sector. Once the pilot project has been completed, Aslak Felin expects that it will be possible to launch the app to a wide target group.

– “For that, it will probably be sufficient to just complete a questionnaire prior to using the app. The reason we took blood samples from participants in the pilot project was so that we could check the results,” he says.

Catalogue of physical activities

Another project that Prevention Impact Lab is working with is a catalogue of the physical activities available within Region Västra Götaland. The catalogue includes what each municipality has to offer in the way of exercise, such as gyms, sports clubs, walking groups, dance, parkour, etc. Thus far, the catalogue has only been available as a PDF. So, to make it more accessible, RISE is building a digital prototype in the form of a website that people can download to their cell phones.

– “In the catalogue, people can get the contact information to the various organisers. But, there is also a filtering function so that you can limit the search to the activities you are most interested in,” says Aslak Felin.

Ways of filtering also include place of residence, age and any physical disabilities. That way, for example, a 70-year-old with knee problems living in Borås can find suitable activities in their area to participate in.

– “The biggest challenge we’re facing is how to market the service so that residents in the region can find it and start using it. We want to make sure that we reach groups that are typically harder to reach,” says Aslak Felin.

Later on, RISE hopes to not only develop more preventive solutions like this, but also serve as the body for verifying digital preventive initiatives like this.

– “These days, there are many developers of health apps who have poor knowledge of whether their methods really work and lead to results. Insurance companies, for example, are very interest in verified products of this kind,” says Aslak Felin.

Aslak Felin

Contact person

Aslak Felin

Senior Projektledare

+46 10 516 54 42

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