Health promotion with a smartphone app
“The most common cause for premature deaths in the world are long-term illnesses that sometimes stem from unfortunate lifestyle choices, such as unhealthy diets and lack of exercise. Despite that these lifestyle connected diseases causing around 86% of deaths in Europe only 1.6% of health care spending goes to preventive measures,” says Tryggvi Þorgeirsson, MD and Doctoral Student. He, in association with a large group of collaborators, is working on developing a smartphone app that will be used for health promotion and preventive measures against lifestyle connected diseases. “We suggest that promoting health should not be boring, on the contrary, we promote fun and games. I work both via the growth company GoodLifeMe and my Doctoral thesis at The Centre of Public Health Sciences at the University of Iceland,” Þorgeirsson adds.
The work on this project entails collaboration with specialists from some of the world‘s most prestigious universities, Harvard University and MIT in the United States and Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. Furthermore, the Directorate of Health and the University Hospitals in Iceland, Norway and Sweden take part. “We also work with a large group of creative people at the designer firms in Kaaber-House. We are certain that smart phones are a suitable medium for health promotion and research in other countries has shown that there is a lack of scientifically developed and tested apps for comprehensive health promotion,” says Þorgeirsson.
The idea for the project stems from Þorgeirsson‘s work as an MD. “After having issued numerous prescriptions for lifestyle connected ailments I wanted to contribute to this field. I went to the Harvard University School of Public Health for MA studies in Public Health Sciences and I currently teach a course on health promotion and preventive measures at the University of Iceland. I have conducted the development of the app in recent year as director of GoodLifeMe and am now embarking on my doctoral study on how the app can be used in health promotion in upper secondary schools and for therapies in hospitals for teen-agers who are overweight,” adds Þorgeirsson, and says that more research based projects connected to the app are in the pipes.
The project has received great attention and received various funding in Iceland and abroad. “We have completed the app prototype and the first edition launch is scheduled for the beginning of 2014. It will be used for preliminary research among a few hundred young people to prepare for the final version that will be published at the end of 2014. That version will be tested using comparative studies, both among students at the secondary level and youths in hospital connected with treatment for adolescents who are overweight,” explains Þorgeirsson.
The social and scientific gains of the project are undisputed. “We will offer a fun, creative and economically advantageous ways to improve public health in Iceland with the app, and thus reduce the burden of diseases. High quality studies will furthermore add to the important knowledge base in this novel approach in public health intervention and thus open the door to further use of smartphones in comprehensive health promotion,” concludes Þorgeirsson.
The doctoral study supervisor was Rangar Bjarnason, Professor at the Faculty of Medicine.