A simple Nudge to help pre-diabetics lead healthier lives

Sean O’Connor

Diabetes is a global epidemic affecting more than 350 million people worldwide. Almost all (90%) of those cases are of the type 2 variety – the kind of diabetes that can potentially be avoided through exercise and better nutrition during the pre-diabetes stage.

In England, 3.1 million people are afflicted with diabetes today, and according to the National Health Service (NHS), this figure is estimated to increase to 4.6 million by 2030, largely due to poor diets and a lack of exercise. According to the CDC, figures are equally disturbing in the U.S. where 9.3% (or 29.1 million) Americans have diabetes. These statistics represent a tremendous amount of suffering and a burden on already overstressed health care systems in both countries.

Through years of working with clients in the pharmaceutical industry, we have developed deep empathy for patients managing diabetes, so we decided to do something to help raise awareness of this disease and how it can potentially be avoided through better nutrition and exercise.

In England, 3.1 million people are afflicted with diabetes today. In the U.S., the number is close to 30 million.

However, we know that changing diet is extremely difficult. And more, you simply can’t exercise your way out of poor nutrition. Improved eating habits start with smarter, healthier choices in the supermarket. So we asked ourselves: how can we leverage technology to enable people to change what they eat and how they shop for food so that they can start to improve their health?

Enter Nudge, a concept driven by an app that helps pre-diabetics (or anyone looking to improve their eating habits) take small steps toward their larger nutrition goals. Once a person has type 2 diabetes, s/he has a highly complex, chronic illness for life that’s difficult to manage. That’s why it’s so important to make changes in the pre-diabetic stage (or before).

We like to think of Nudge as a personal nutritionist disguised as a shopping assistant – it coordinates your family’s shopping list from week to week and keeps track of what you buy, so that it can identify purchasing patterns that can be improved. Not sure what to buy? Just scan an item with your phone, and Nudge will suggest healthy alternatives – like substituting brown rice or quinoa for white rice – that suit your personal nutrition goals. It will also offer recipes that you and the whole family can enjoy.

The idea is to help “nudge” people toward small, incremental changes that add up to big improvements. After all, we are what we eat, and we eat what we buy, so better choices at retail can actually help keep pre-diabetics from developing type 2 diabetes.

Nudge represents one way technology and design can influence meaningful change in the health care space – in this case, helping people create better relationships with food through a simple, easy-to-use app. The beauty of this type of simplicity is that it can have a significant and profound impact, not just on people’s lives but also on the health care system as a whole.

Addressing these problems will require representatives from both the private and public sectors. Our hope is to raise awareness about this issue and identify like-minded organizations to develop something like Nudge in the market, which will help ease the pain and suffering of individuals and their families as well as the already-overburdened health care systems.

Nudge was profiled in Fast Company.