Developing a mechanism to deploy digital tools aimed at lifestyle modification in primary care

Flagship Program: Changing Health Trajectories in Chronic Disease

Project Description

Weight control is a priority in Australia, with 60-80 per cent of the population being either obese or overweight.

This project will engage with the Wyndham community – in Melbourne’s outer south western suburbs – to assess whether digital tools (including avatars) can be deployed to trigger lifestyle modification, and assist with weight loss, in overweight and obese people.

Currently in healthcare, weight management protocols are ineffective or only marginally effective, and health professionals are limited by the time available to trigger behaviour change in overweight or obese patients.

Digital tools that effectively trigger this change without a major investment of consultation time and resources would greatly increase the scope for health professionals to help address this public health challenge.

Tools alone are not sufficient, however. Health professionals also require guidance on how and when to deploy the tools, as well as the proportion and likely characteristics of people who might respond to these interventions.

Whilst there is currently a plethora of digital tools available, there has been relatively little attention given to how such tools might be deployed safely and effectively in practice.

In this study, the FutureMe© app – a digital tool that has previously been shown to be effective in an experimental design – will be further tested in a prospective observational study, with particular reference to how and when the tool is offered to participants.

The study will seek to develop a methodology for introducing digital tools aimed at lifestyle modifications, including a system to motivate and ‘on-board’ individuals via the Hunger app (an electronic food diary that allows the user to record what they eat and to estimate the calories in each meal) before triggering the relevant change with the FutureMe© app.

It has been shown that photographic food diaries and avatars can trigger efforts at weight control, by demonstrating to an individual how their appearance will change with their weight.

Given this, participants in the study will be offered an opportunity to see an avatar of themselves as they might appear in the future depending on their diet and exercise. They will be able to choose how they wish to appear in the future (using the FutureMe© app) and will then see how many calories they must consume and expend in exercise to achieve that outcome.

Participants will be followed up to determine if they were triggered to manage their weight by using the app and (where they opt for it) an avatar.

Previous research has also suggested that when patients are seeking advice from a health practitioner, the seating arrangements during the consultation have a significant impact on the degree to which that person becomes objectively engaged in the consultation. This aspect will also be incorporated as a factor in this study.

Read a media release on the research project here:
www.digitalhealthcrc.com/joint-media-release-digital-tools-and-obesity

Project Objectives

The aim is to conduct a prospective longitudinal observational study. The objective is to expose a cohort of eligible participants to two digital tools aimed at triggering modifiable lifestyle change and to collect data on engagement with the tools and attempts at weight management.

Industry Participant


Other Project Participants

Werribee Hospital Foundation
Nicole Whiting, Director, Werribee Hospital Foundation

Mercy Hospitals Victoria
Dr Michael Dodson, Medical Director, Mercy Hospitals Victoria

Archetype Health 
Matthew Jiwa, Company Manager, Archetype Health

Research Participant

University of Notre Dame Australia
Dr Moyez Jiwa, Professor of Health Innovation at the University of Notre Dame School of Medicine (Sydney), and Associate Dean of the Melbourne Clinical School

Project Value:

$205,000