New study to investigate how digital tools can help tackle obesity

02 December 2019

A major new research project will investigate how digital tools can be used safely and effectively to help people manage their weight, and so tackle the obesity crisis both in Australia and globally.

The research will be carried out over the next two years in a partnership between the University of Notre Dame Australia, Archetype Health, Werribee Hospital Foundation, Mercy Hospitals Victoria and the Digital Health Cooperative Research Centre (Digital Health CRC).

The study will use an app which allows participants to put their own face on an avatar, and then adjust exercise levels and food intake to see how their avatar’s appearance and body shape will change according to adjustments in diet and physical activity.

Previous trials have shown these images are highly stimulating and can trigger behavioural changes and efforts to better control weight in participants who are motivated and able to achieve the desired outcomes. The study will undertake further testing with a particular focus on how and when such digital tools should be offered to participants.

Dr Moyez Jiwa, Director of Archetype Health, Professor of Health Innovation at Notre Dame’s School of Medicine, Sydney, and Associate Dean of the Melbourne Clinical School, said: he looks forward to working alongside the research team – including Notre Dame’s Dr Ruthra Nagendran and Professor Iain Greenlees (University of Chichester, UK) – on the project.

“We will investigate how digital tools like the Future Me app can best be used in practice and observe how patients respond to these potentially life-changing tools” he said.

“The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ National Health Survey (2017-18) showed that 67% of Australian adults are obese or overweight – with this in mind, it’s hugely important to look for solutions that could help patients make the day-to-day lifestyle changes they require in order to manage their weight more effectively and live healthier lives.”

“Computers and smartphones are increasingly a large part of our lives; we seem to be looking at a screen almost every minute of the day. Here is an opportunity for us to do something useful with that from the health perspective.”

Dr Victor Pantano, CEO of the Digital Health CRC, said: “Digital tools have tremendous potential in helping people to lose weight, and in combatting the obesity epidemic in Australia and across the world. Given that being overweight or obese contributes significantly to various diseases and poor health outcomes, as well as increased demand on our health system and hospitals, it is critical we do all we can to motivate and support people to achieve a healthy weight.”

Dr Michael Dodson, Medical Director, Mercy Hospitals Victoria, said: “Obesity is increasingly prevalent in Australian communities and presents a particular challenge because of the variety and complexity of potential contributing factors. Digital applications provide a unique opportunity to widely deliver highly personalised tools that can help motivate individuals to change behaviours and lifestyle choices, and to reinforce these changes.”

“For these digital tools to work most effectively in influencing lifestyle choices, they need to be customisable enough to integrate smoothly into the daily lives of a diverse range of individuals. This study is particularly valuable as it not only considers a digital tool that can motivate and influence behaviour, but also seeks to determine how that tool can most effectively be used.”

Dr Jason Goh, Chairperson for the Werribee Hospital Foundation, said: "The Wyndham community in Melbourne’s outer south western suburbs is a digitally savvy community that is ripe and ready for digital health research. The Werribee Hospital Foundation is delighted to be able to be a partner in this landmark project that seeks to leverage off the digital use behaviours of our Wyndham community to influence positive health outcomes in this region.”

“For every dollar invested, Australian medical research returns $3.90 in health benefits to the community. We are confident that the successful completion of this research project will encourage further collaboration between government, public health services, universities, industry and philanthropic organisations (like the Foundation) to stimulate growth in digital health research activities not just within the Wyndham region but across the whole of Australia. We hope to be part of this very exciting journey ahead."

Available for interview:
Dr Victor Pantano (Digital Health CRC) on 0406 422 074
Dr Moyez Jiwa via Nancy Merlo on 0415 517 589 or nancy.merlo@nd.edu.au


Media Contact
Nancy Merlo : +61 2 8204 4044 | +61 0415 517 589 | nancy.merlo@nd.edu.au