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Reshaping Your Health, One Step at a Time

Nearly 1 in 6 Canadians has prediabetes. New apps that come with a sense of accountability may help manage it.

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There are 5.7 million Canadians with prediabetes, a condition that comes with elevated blood sugar and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Prediabetes is associated with carrying excess fat around the waist and being largely sedentary.

Although many people with prediabetes go on to develop type 2 diabetes, the risk of this happening can be lowered through positive lifestyle changes, including a healthy diet and physical activity. But how do you help 5.7 million Canadians stick to a healthy eating and exercise regime?

Dr. Mary Jung and her team at the University of British Columbia Okanagan are studying how mobile health apps and lifestyle counselling can be used to change health behaviours for the better and maintain them long-term.

“There are over 150,000 mobile fitness apps on the market, but only 15% of Canadians get the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week, so we know something isn’t working,” says Jung. “We’re hoping to change this by showing app developers how to incorporate self-regulation and behaviour change science into their products and make real long-lasting impacts on health behaviours.”

In Jung’s program, each patient takes part in a three-week training and counselling program and uses a customized fitness app to track and self-reflect on how they are performing against personalized diet and exercise goals. Once the three weeks is over, participants can still interact with their counsellor through the app to ask for help and advice, or show off their achievements.

“In this type of program you don’t need monitoring 24 hours a day, but you do need to feel some accountability,” notes Jung. “Just knowing the support of a counsellor is there at the other end of the app seems to have an impact, even if you don’t actually make use of that support.”

The Small Steps for Big Changes program, run in partnership with YMCA Okanagan, aims to help 600 participants in the Kelowna, BC area over a three-year period, and the app itself is evolving as the team learns more about how best to support and motivate users.

“My hope is that through our research we can generate enough strong evidence for apps that support real self-regulation that companies will recognize the benefit and incorporate behaviour change science into their apps,” adds Jung.

“Mobile health has huge potential to help people manage various chronic diseases, but support apps need to be evidence-based and customized for different groups and individual users in order to realize that potential.”

This piece was originally published by the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, British Columbia’s health research funding agency. Read the original post here.

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Amy Amy Noise is a science communicator who is fascinated by how and why the world works. Always learning, she is passionate about science and sharing it with the world to improve and protect our health, society and environment. Amy earned her BSc (biology and science communication) at the University of Manchester, and MSc (nutrition science and policy) at King’s College London, UK. She tweets sporadically @any_noise