MAKING AN IMPACT

Improved Health? There's a Scientific App for That

Released: Thursday, November 03, 2016

There seems to be an app for nearly everything these days—including healthy eating, fitness and sleep—but not all of them are backed by proven scientific data. Pennington Biomedical scientists are developing apps aimed at health. One example is Dr. Robert Newton, Jr., a population scientist at Pennington Biomedical. He's on the lookout for new ways to improve community health while integrating technology that makes a healthy lifestyle more convenient—and he's putting science to work to evaluate effectiveness.

Through the Healthy Detours research study, Newton is assessing a unique new smartphone app by asking college students at LSU to use the app for 12 weeks. See how the app works and how it's already helping students improve their health.

Here's how the research study and the app work: each participant in the program inputs their class, work and social schedule, and the app encourages them in real time to make improvements to their nutrition, get more exercise, and enhance the quality of their sleep. For example, users receive notifications in between classes that they could use the time to work in some extra steps. If they're close to a walking trail on campus or near a gym, users receive a prompt to take advantage of them. At mealtime, students who are near restaurants receive helpful tips on the healthiest menu options. If study participants are not getting enough sleep or enough quality sleep, the app notifies users with suggestions on how they can make improvements.

"Most college students are transitioning from life at home with parents to life on their own where they are establishing new habits and independent lifestyles," said Newton. "If we can find creative ways to encourage them to make better choices as part of their everyday lives, we hope to reduce their risk of developing chronic diseases later on in life such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease."

The information Newton and his team gather through the Healthy Detours research study could lay the foundation for making further improvements to the app that could then be tailored to any college campus or community.

*This research is in collaboration with Dr. Valerie Myers at Klein Buendel. Myers serves as principal investigator for the study and Newton is LSU site principal investigator.