Researchers from the University of Akron and the Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron are developing a software-based program that will help people get healthier.
The “personalized wellness management” project recently received a $1.3 million award from the National Science Foundation, an independent federal agency that promotes science and engineering through research and education.
During the next several years, technology will be designed to track activities and incentivize participants for making healthy lifestyle choices, such as staying active and eating well, said Shiva Sastry, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Akron.
Surveys will be conducted to identify barriers and motivations to leading healthy lifestyles, Sastry said.
Sastry is working on the initiative with Victor E. Pinheiro, chair of the Department of Sports Science and Wellness Education at the University of Akron, and Dr. Frank L. Douglas, president and chief executive of the BioInnovation Institute.
“If we can put our fingers on what motivates them, then our hope is to say, ‘Now that I know what motivates people, can I develop incentives?’ ” Sastry said.
The program will be developed and tested during a pilot study in the next couple of years with UA employees. Participants might use computers, smartphones and other devices to access the program’s tools.
The BioInnovation Institute also will use the software and other tools that will be developed through the study as part of its ongoing Accountable Care Community project.
The Accountable Care Community effort is receiving between $500,000 and $2 million a year for five years from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The project brings together public health, medical providers, health systems, higher education, safety-net services, researchers, mental-health services and other community agencies to develop community-wide health-improvement programs. More than 60 other social service and medical organizations have agreed to participate.
The BioInnovation Institute is talking with area employers about joining the project and using the wellness program, Douglas said. Participating employees would receive personalized exercise and nutrition suggestions, as well as help tracking their goals.
“The idea is when you look at wellness, people are different,” he said. “There are different things that motivate people [to] eat correctly, etc.”
Employers increasingly are interested in adopting wellness strategies to improve the health of their workers and reduce rising insurance costs.
According to a recent survey from the Society for Human Resource Management, about 21 percent of employers discount the employees’ share of insurance premiums when workers complete a health-risk assessment. About 20 percent offer discounts to workers who don’t use tobacco products.
The goal is to develop easy-to-use, affordable solutions that employers can adopt nationwide, Pinheiro said.
“We know you need to eat well,” he said. “You need to sleep well. You need to exercise. But that’s not going on.”
Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/abjcherylpowell.