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Changing bad health habits via IT

Public health systems are working on new-technology-driven, more targeted programs to help people live a healthier lifestyle.

According to a recent press release, the leader of the Physical Activity and Nutrition Clinical Research Consortium at Kansas University is visiting Adelaide for a Flinders University Digital Health Centre global telehealth symposium.

Technology can help change health behaviour

He shared that encouraging health behaviour change requires action at multiple levels.

There are technology-led approaches that can help to prevent chronic disease, particularly as health budgets shrink. These are:

  1. Understand the population with automated high-volume data collection and develop rapid and innovative responses, including patient-led interventions and clinical delivery of most-needed services.
  2. Monitor health behaviour and deliver solutions via cost-effective IT-based solutions, including via virtual health coaches and mobile and internet support to individuals and health services in rural and remote communities.
  3. Focus on bespoke behavioural change programs to encourage awareness and support change in nutrition, physical activity, sleep and mental health. This is applicable to specific demographic and socio-economic groups, and in a myriad of systems such as social motivation, challenge-reward or planned behaviour.

Children, for instance, are at the mercy of adult decision-makers within various settings throughout the day.

The adults effectively determine whether or not children have opportunities to engage in physical activity or to eat health-promoting foods.

Digital health programs

Professor Richard Rosenkranz shared an example of digital health programs that are making a difference.

In northeast Kansas, video-based wellness training has been delivered to leaders of youth development programs via SMS or Internet learning management systems.

These trainings help build the capacity of the leaders to offer more opportunities to kids for fun physical activity fruit and vegetable snacks.

This creates healthy norms as well as providing education for kids and their families in how to be healthy.

The importance of conducive environments and healthy habit formation

He enumerated four major behavioural risk factors in reducing chronic disease in the communities. These are:

  1. Diet
  2. Physical activity
  3. Smoking
  4. Alcohol consumption

Instead of relying too much on expecting people to make rational and logical decisions, more focus is needed on designing conducive environments and fostering healthy habit formation.

In aiming to achieve better health and wellness, at levels ranging from the individual to the population, it is crucially important to be able to understand, predict and influence human behaviour.

In addition, healthy environments are those that have healthy default options that make the healthy choice the easy and most cost-effective choice.

This is true across the range from community programs to public health to medical care.

In order to make long-lasting changes, policy-makers and other decision-makers, including parents, need to meet the various needs of the community of people such as social connections, autonomy, skill building and healthy norms.

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