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How Can We Use Technology to Solve Type 2 Diabetes?

31/05/2016 16:33 | Updated 01 June 2016

tech-for-good

Sugar

Type 2 diabetes. Obesity. Sugar.

3 things we hear a lot about, but do they deserve the attention they've been getting?

Yes would be the short answer, but they probably deserve more.

Type 2 diabetes really is a big problem. Public Health England estimate 5 million people in England are at high risk for the disease, while the British Medical Journal has estimated that almost half of people over 40 are at high risk!

It's very likely that you'll personally know a few people that are affected, but whether or not that person knows they are at risk is another story, as it's estimated that as many as 9 out of 10 people don't know about it.

The challenge is that things are getting worse, not better. Current non-technological solutions aren't solving the problem. With this in mind, how do we solve it? Can technology be a part?

I certainly believe technology can help, but only when it is used in combination with other solutions. Otherwise, you end up with short-term fixes that don't result in long-term changes.

Fitbits

A good example of this is an activity tracker. If you've ever bought one (think Fitbit or Jawbone) you might've found it really exciting and motivating for the first few months, but then got bored of it. Sound familiar? I don't even wear mine anymore.

The problem is that it's a standalone solution, which quickly leads to the question "so what?". For example, I hit my 10,000 steps a day target for the week, so what? Can I directly visualise the benefits of that activity? Whether that is losing weight, having more energy, feeling happier, avoiding type 2 diabetes?

If I can't associate the changes with the benefits, then the motivation to keep using the activity tracker and hit my steps per day quickly fades. I'd rather just wear my Casio.

We've seen this through the work we've done at OurPath. We noticed that activity trackers, dietary advice, digital scales, or health advisors weren't particularly effective at achieving long-term changes when used by themselves.

However, when you combine them together you achieve a few things. Not only do you allow the associations between cause (e.g. dietary changes) and effect (e.g. weight loss) to be more easily visualised, you also provide a number of different forms of motivation. Take advantage of a few additional behavioural change techniques and you start to create something with lasting impact.

Type 2 diabetes

Nevertheless, it's been quite a long road to get here. Both Chris and myself, the founders of OurPath, worked in the healthcare and medical world for a number of years. We saw the crippling effect of diabetes not only on people themselves, but also on European and global health systems.

Did you know that we spend almost £9 billion per year on treating type 2 diabetes in the UK? And almost 80-90% of this is avoidable?

Once we learnt this, we were convinced that technology was the way to go in order to develop something that was effective and scalable.

We delved into the 'tech for good' scene and went through the Bethnal Green Ventures (BGV) accelerator, a 3-month programme aimed at businesses trying to achieve social good. Trying to get things done in the tech for good space definitely requires knowing other people who also want to do good, and BGV's mentor and alumni network was invaluable in achieving this.

Starting from a blank slate, 2 years later we're in a position where we have something that works and people enjoy. We're launching it to the public this month, and our main goal is to get this into the NHS so it can help as many people as possible.

Going forward we want to lower the £9 billion that is unnecessarily spent by the NHS on type 2 diabetes each year, as well as improving people's health and wellbeing. We hope we'll then be able to justify that we are indeed a 'tech for good' startup.

Mike is one of the founders of OurPath, a 6-week comprehensive programme that helps people gain control over their behaviours, diet, and lifestyle. You can read more at www.ourpath.co.uk

HuffPost UK Tech is running a two-week focus on our Tech For Good campaign, which aims to highlight the technology that is driving social change and making a positive, long-lasting difference to our world. If you'd like to blog on our platform around this topic, email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com with a summary of who you are and what you'd like to blog about.

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