Diabetes. Heart disease. Obesity.
These are terms that are as ubiquitous as their marketing counterparts: “Fat Free,” “Low Sugar,” “Heart Healthy.” While many people may feel desensitized to the names of these diseases, the reality is that overcoming these chronic illnesses is one of the greatest challenges faced by Americans today.
Where We Are Headed
Diabetes is a slow killer. Afflicted patients experience skyrocketing healthcare costs. Medical costs for people with diabetes are twice as high as for people without diabetes. Just a handful of the complications of diabetes include blindness, kidney failure, stroke, amputations of the legs or feet, and heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.
The percentage of children with obesity aged just 6-11 years old more than doubled from 7% in 1980 to almost 18% in 2012. Teenagers aged 12-19 experienced an even greater increase in obesity rates during the same period, starting at only 5% and jumping to 21%.
Obese youth have greatly increased risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even many types of cancer.
Where We Are Now
Departments and organizations are planning major initiatives to work towards bettering our citizens’ health. For example, the National Diabetes Prevention Program run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is “an evidence-based lifestyle change program….that stresses education, dietary changes, coping skills, and group activities to help participants lose a moderate amount of weight and get at least 150 minutes a week of physical activity.”
Another program is Let’s Move, U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama’s personal campaign to “Raise a Healthier Generation of Kids.” Let’s Move provides educational resources hoping to promoting disease preventing lifestyle choices.
Programs like these have their place in our efforts to combat chronic illness. However, take for example, the description from the CDC of its program as a “collaboration between federal agencies, community organizations, employers, insurers, health care professionals, academia, and other stakeholders.”
The reality is that many of the current programs involving large organizations and government agencies are hindered by inefficiency and their efforts are diluted by the interests of the many organizations involved.
Changing Our Trajectory
The best way to get effective healthcare and lifestyle education to individuals is not through bureaucratic programs.
The best way is through something many Americans are already extremely familiar with: web and mobile applications.
Web and mobile apps allow individuals extremely personalized, accessible, and reliable programs to make significant lifestyle changes. These applications pose substantial benefits over other programs because they have much broader access to users and better data collection, leading to increased customization and more effective results.
The validity of user applications in helping solve chronic illnesses is shown by the increasing number of startups in this space, often called “telehealth.”
For example, Omada Health provides an extremely interactive 16 week digital health program to help people develop and maintain healthy lifestyles. Their program utilizes technology and online communication to engage with its users in a very familiar way.
Omada’s key to success is an understanding that lifestyle changes made during the 16 week period are not sufficient for disease prevention; it’s crucial that these lifestyle are adopted for life. The program provides continued support after the 16 week period.
Another example is Kurbo Health. Similar to Omada Health, Kurbo focuses on weight loss specifically for kids and teenagers.
Kurbo provides personalized health coaching and a mobile app targeting younger audiences with a simple and fun method to tracking diet. Kurbo reinforces long lasting health habits by avoiding restrictive calorie counting and promotes engagement with games and videos. Both factors are essential for younger users to adopt and maintain healthy lifestyle habits.
With their accessibility, usability, and familiarity, web and mobile applications are no doubt inextricably linked with the future of American health and wellness. 7 out of 10 deaths and the majority of health spending yearly for Americans is the result of chronic disease that is largely preventable by lifestyle factors such as diet and physical activity. While that is a grim statistic, if we continue to encourage innovation, growth, and success for startups disrupting healthcare, the future is nothing but sweet.