Using a habit-changing app leads to healthier eating and more exercise in prediabetics. This is now shown by a Finnish study.
As part of the StopDia study, approximately 100 healthcare workers, including nurses, dieticians and exercise trainers, were trained to use a new group counseling approach to prevent diabetes. The lifestyle intervention used a digital application and various theories of behavior change.
“We knew that this approach was suitable for practice, but it was important that we had strong evidence of its effectiveness,” says Professor Pilvikki Absetz, who was responsible for the behavioral side of the interventions. Lifestyle changes were supported by an app that allowed participants to choose small health-promoting habits, mark them as done, and receive feedback on their progress. The app’s lifestyle library contains more than 400 habits that are good to incorporate into your daily life.
Almost 3,000 people participated in the study
“During the study, it became clear that the comprehensive identification of individuals at increased risk of type 2 diabetes requires the efforts of many stakeholders and broad cooperation,” says prof. Jussi Pihlajamäki, head of the StopDia study.
A total of 2,907 study participants in three Finnish hospital districts were randomly divided into three groups: one used the app, one used the app and also received group counseling, and one was a control group. The goal was not to lose weight, but to improve the quality of nutrition, increase physical activity, reduce sedentary work, improve sleep, limit alcohol consumption and stop smoking, thereby reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes.
The quality of nutrition improved, abdominal obesity decreased
Diet quality improved in the group that used the app and received group counseling. Most notably, participants ate more vegetables and better quality fats and their waist circumferences slightly decreased, while similar effects were not seen in the app-only group.
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“Diet quality in relation to official dietary recommendations was assessed using the Healthy Diet Index developed as part of the StopDia study. The Healthy Eating Index is good for promoting lifestyle advice and can also be used as an effectiveness indicator,” says research leader Jaana Lindström from the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare.
“Better diet quality reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes independent of weight change. Participating in group counseling and using the app increased the improvement in nutrition quality,” says PhD student Kirsikka Aittola.
Using the app increases physical activity
Using the app in combination with and without group counseling slightly slowed the development of insulin resistance. “Even small changes can have an impact on the prevention of type 2 diabetes,” says Professor Timo Lakka, deputy leader of the StopDia study. Lifestyle interventions are important to implement as part of health care – individual wishes and needs must be taken into account.
“Our results are important because this is the first large, randomized, controlled trial conducted in a primary care setting that investigated interactions between combined digital and group lifestyle counseling,” says Jussi Pihlajamäki. Findings suggest that attending lifestyle counselling, whether digital or group, supports lifestyle changes. Further analyzes to be carried out as part of the study will explore the possibilities for increasingly personalized lifestyle advice.
This text is based on a press release from the University of Eastern Finland. We have linked the original publication here and in the text.
Image source: Rob Hampson, splash