An epidemic of lifestyle diseases has spread throughout the U.S. annually, $700 billion, or 75 percent of total U.S. healthcare costs, are spent on treating chronic diseases. Majority of these chronic conditions are easily preventable through lifestyle changes like nutritious and healthy food consumption coupled with active lifestyle. In the day and age of wearable's, it's easy to get carried away with the sex appeal of newer fitness tracking devices, snazzy websites touting various forms of walking and running challenges. However, unless we focus on nutritious eating, we cannot walk ourselves out of this epidemic.
This begs the question, if nutrition is so important, what is holding us back from eating healthy? What are the friction points in healthy eating? What can technology do address these friction points?
Healthy eating is a complex problem marred with confusion on how to identify healthy foods, consumer brand affinity, our taste buds, and lack of ability to objectively track our eating behavior. Let's discuss these challenges in detail.
1. Comprehending nutritional fact panel-
If posed a question to identify healthy food, everyone would attempt to figure it out using their own perception-some will gravitate towards total calories and assume lower calories equals improved healthiness, others might try to limit fat and cholesterol while some section of population might pay more attention to protein and ignore the rest and the list goes on. As you can imagine, there is no consistency in analysis process hence the results cannot be consistent either.
2. Impact of marketing messages-
As human beings we end up paying more attention to marketing messages like "extra calcium" or "heart healthy" etc. on product packaging.
3. Ineffective dieting programs-
Diet programs that focus on consumption of subset of food items for defined duration rarely provide results that can be sustained over a long period of time. Plenty of studies have found out that population on diet usually end of gain their weight back.
4. Painful process of food logging-
Populations wanting to track their food consumption patterns resort to food logging. As the name suggests, they literally log every single meal and snack they consume. This, as you can imagine requires inordinate amount of discipline to get it right.
5. One-on-One counselling-
One-on-one counselling with a registered dietitian is an effective way to ensure diet adherence. However, relying solely on in-person counselling is not a scalable approach if we want to have a meaningful impact on US population.
To address these challenges, technologies like Cloud Computing, Big Data Analytics, Personalization and Mobile come in handy. Not only do these technologies have the capability of crunching millions of data points in matter of seconds, they also provide an unique opportunity to engage population in healthy eating behavior by providing on-going feedback, recommendations and most importantly auto-tracking of behavior change.
We, at Nutrisavings created country's first digital nutrition eco-system that connects grocers, health plans, employers, food manufacturers and farmers market in an eco-system where utilizing digital technologies, we can provide personalized, timely and actionable education to users.
1. De-mystification of healthy food-
By parsing all data elements from nutritional fact panel and ingredient list of food packaging, we create a nutrition scoring algorithm that assigns point value between 0 and 100 to all foods. The assignment of point value significantly simplifies decision making for end users. They can simply purchase higher scoring food items.
2. Move from elimination to Substitution-
Rather than limiting user choices like a diet regiment, Mobile technologies can be utilized to provide healthy swap out recommendations to users while shopping in grocery stores. Relevant education delivered at point of action is far more relevant and effective in changing behaviors than addressing it after the fact.
3. Piggy backing on grocer rewards card-
Utilizing grocer issued rewards cards, we can uniquely identify shoppers and track the purchasing patterns after they decide to opt-in to the Nutrisavings eco-system.
4. Tracking longitudinal behavior change-
Every shopping trip from a user can be scored as an average score of all food products purchased. The trip score can be automatically tracked, providing an invaluable insight to user of their purchasing patterns and behavior change overtime.
This is a single example of digital technologies in action. It can be expanded in many different areas. I would welcome your thoughts and ideas on other use cases where technology can make a meaningful impact on health and well-being of our families with a goal of building healthier communities.