As noted in the white paper, the bad news is that non-communicable diseases are the world’s biggest killer, posing an escalating threat to health and wellbeing. In today’s modern world, lifestyle choices are contributing to this inexorable rise in prevalence of conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
The good news? As these diseases are driven by choices such as diet and exercise, people can make a difference by taking the right path to a healthy lifestyle.
While some people may see technology as a driver for bad lifestyle choices, the answer to the problem could be within the smartphones and digital devices that have come to dominate our lives.
Thorgeirsson and Kawachi point out that lifestyle choices often become entrenched because of ‘fast thinking’, decisions taken on the spur of the moment that in themselves may seem fairly innocuous but that can cumulatively lead an individual on the path to serious illness.
Fast thinking occurs because of the brain’s natural tendency towards mental shortcuts, a trait that in the past may have allowed people to avoid danger in tricky situations.
But today the targeting of those same mental shortcuts by advertisers can lead to unhealthy behavior. So, the authors argue, it’s important for public health authorities to find ways to promote ‘slow thinking.’
Stress, multi-tasking and other demands on cognitive processes may also increase use of fast thinking and adversely affect lifestyle choices, leading to increasingly impulsive and emotionally controlled behavior.
The answer to the problem is in the title of the white paper – SidekickHealth: A Behavioral-Economics Based Mobile-Health Application.
Part of the problem with fast thinking behavior is a tendency to place higher value on the present than the future. This is also the dominant approach to healthcare, as the spending on prevention remains only a fraction of the funds allocated for treatment.
Healthy behaviors usually involve costs or efforts in the present for benefits in the future – but it’s not always easy to appreciate these benefits.
This is where a mobile app-driven approach can help; it can provide a framework that helps to overcome the desire for immediate gratification and can help users value the long-term benefits. One example is a commitment contract that allow users to pre-commit to lifestyle choices such as quitting smoking.
Using a mobile app helps to create situations, where users feel instant benefits for healthy behavior instead, promoting self-monitoring to ensure people stick to the promise outlined in their contracts.
The purpose of mobile apps, such as Sidekick’s multi-therapeutic area platform, is to frame healthy behavior in a positive manner, instead of as an obligation to meet recommendations.