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Why Technology Could Be The Answer For The Global Obesity Epidemic

Since 1975, global obesity levels have tripled. The most recent figures from the World Health Organization (WHO) found that over 1.9 billion adults were overweight and over 650 million were obese. These figures continue to rise despite attempts by governme...

05/10/2021 14:07

Since 1975, global obesity levels have tripled. The most recent figures from the World Health Organization (WHO) found that over 1.9 billion adults were overweight and over 650 million were obese. These figures continue to rise despite attempts by governments and organizations to reverse the trends. The problem is so prevalent that WHO coined the term ‘Globesity’ – back in 2001.

Inactivity and excess weight result in an increased risk of death. Obesity – defined as having a Body Mass Index (BMI) equal to or greater than 30 – is a significant risk factor for many of the world’s top causes of death, including strokes, heart disease, diabetes, and numerous forms of cancer. A study in 2017 called the Global Burden of Disease found that obesity had led to 4.7 million dying prematurely that year. That was four times the number of people who died globally from traffic accidents.

Obesity affects other aspects of life as well. There is considerable evidence for links between depression and excess weight, for example. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 43% of adults suffering from depression were obese. A different study in 2010 found a 55% increased risk of developing depression in people who were obese.

What Is Causing Such High Levels Of Obesity, And What Is Being Done? 

There are various complex factors at play, but the primary roots of the problem are diet and lack of activity. Since the 1980s, there has been an increased abundance of high calorie, high salt, processed food at relatively lower prices than more nutritional fare. This has resulted in an explosion of obesity, primarily affecting those on low-or-middle-incomes. 

At the same time, technology has led to more ‘white-collar’ work in offices. This has meant a larger percentage of the population shifting to indoor work, with many commuting by car. People are eating more fattening food while at the same time being less active. The internet is exacerbating this problem with increasing swathes of the population now working and playing while remaining immobile for hours.

The simple solution is to eat less and exercise more, but that is obviously not working. Governments around the world have been recommending diets and have been, for example, trying to push people to eat a certain amount of fruit and vegetables a day. The health industry is full of fad diets and increasingly strange exercise regimes. These efforts occasionally work at an individual level but obesity, poor health and related issues, such as depression, continue to rise.

The Key To Fighting Obesity May Be New Methods Of Motivation And Rewards

Everyone knows being overweight is dangerous and are aware of what they should be doing – eating less and being more active. But normal approaches haven’t been working. There is a growing movement that believes using technology to motivate people might be the answer. Apps and digital platforms are springing up that track progress and reward healthy choices, encouraging users to adopt healthier lifestyles and improve well-being. The approach is proving successful and is bringing diverse talents together to make a change. 

An example of how this is being implemented is the STEP (Self-care Technology Engagement Protocol) digital platform. Alexandre Rigaud, the Co-Founder and CEO, had suffered from obesity when he was a teenager but after an immense struggle, managed to lose the weight, learning the power of motivation as he did so. Rigaud became a highly successful tech entrepreneur, but his battle with obesity stayed with him. He dreamed of launching a platform to encourage healthy living. That became a reality when he met Jean-Michel Alfieri, the Co-Founder of Atlas Group, a private equity firm specialized in start-up investments.

STEP is an entity that leverages 39 technologies to reward communities based on their well-being and drive their motivation to work on their health. “I truly believe that people can optimize their potential only if they are allowed to be their best versions. However, sustainable change is only possible by leveraging motivators,” explains Rigaud.

The platform uses white-label mobile applications that work with phones and smart-watches to act as wellness assistants. It is a popular idea. Q1 of 2020 alone saw an eightfold increase in Google searches for virtual health-based assistance. The concept of having reminders and rewards on a device that is always with you is what Rigaud hopes will tip the balance and encourage more healthy activity. 

STEP uses rewards and a variety of wellness content to motivate users and promote well-being through its focus on mental wellness, nutrition, and physical fitness. The idea is to encourage healthy lifestyles while remaining enjoyable. And it works. “For me, the distinguishing factor of STEP is the fact that it encourages a healthy lifestyle without compromising on the fun aspects. Needless to say, it is the tangible rewards that is one of the most appealing factors for most people,” Rigaud said.

Rigaud is proud of the impressive progress the platform has already made and hopes the system will change people’s attitudes. He adds, “We aim to establish a new gold standard for the entire health and wellness industry, via a digital cryptographically secured wellness ecosystem.”

Conclusion

This is a new approach to wellness, and time will tell how much of a change it will make to people’s lifestyle choices. Using technology that everyone carries to encourage healthy decisions seems to be working, although it is still early days. These sorts of approaches just weren’t possible before. 

Whether technology will end the obesity epidemic remains to be seen, but it’s a new idea that makes a lot of sense. If making healthy choices can be fun and rewarding, maybe more people will give it a go. It is somewhat ironic that technology, one of the drivers of obesity, may also help end it.

Image by Sue Park from Pixabay