By Dr Claire Timon, ARCH

Despite the best efforts of public health promotion campaigns, the prevalence of unhealthy dietary behaviour, lifestyle and subsequently disorders such as obesity and diabetes remain at an all-time high. This is contributing to soaring healthcare costs globally and impacting individuals’ health and overall quality of life. It is well documented that a healthy diet and lifestyle are crucial in the prevention of chronic diseases and recently scientific findings suggest that personalised nutrition may also play a key role. Although not a new concept, personalised nutrition has become more popular in recent years due to improved understanding of how genotypic and phenotypic factors affect an individual’s response to dietary components (1). Personalised nutrition is the concept of adapting dietary advice to an individual’s specific needs compared to the “one size fits all” general population based dietary guidelines. Advances in science, data analytics and technology have made it possible to investigate and understand these complex nutrition-health relationships and therefore there is great opportunity to incorporate personalised nutrition advice systems into digital health technologies. There are already many examples of the commercial application of personalised nutrition in digital health. Platforms such as Suggestic and Nutrino have incorporated Artificial Intelligence (AI) to understand an individual’s lifestyle and dietary preference and recommend healthy food choices and recipes based on this. Whereas other companies such as Habit for example, focus on the “whole picture” to provide personalised nutrition and health advice using self-reported, microbiome, metabolomic and genetic data and offer chef-prepared meals that are best suited to the individual. Whilst there has been substantial investment in personalised nutrition to date, there remains few, evidence based approaches that demonstrate an effective reduction in risk factor for disease (2) although the personalisation of dietary advice has shown to have a positive influence on dietary behaviours (3).

Aside from diet and nutrition, there are many significant developments in other areas of Digital Health aiming to improve public health and wellbeing of individuals and populations globally. With an abundance of smart phones and wearable technologies, there is a huge opportunity and demand from consumers for mobile health applications and support services. In November 2017 the Food and Drug Authority (FDA) approved the first medical device for the Apple Watch, Kardiaband which is a wearable technology that can detect abnormal heart rhythm and atrial fibrillation and uses algorithms to analyse and predict heart rate. There were also excellent developments in Digital Health regarding the management of diabetes. MySugr and MySugr Junior mobile applications supports patients in their management of diabetes using gamification as incentive. Abbott released the FreeStyle Libre wireless glucose monitor which was developed using “flash technology”. The user wears the sensor on the upper arm and measures glucose in interstitial fluid and can take measurements every minute without causing the patient discomfort or inconvenience. Another exciting area is the application of blockchain technology (facilitates secure online transactions) to enhance complicated technology in healthcare, such as medical record management.

No doubt there will be plenty of more innovations in Digital Health in 2018 aiming to improve healthcare and quality of life for all!

If you are a Connected Health company and have any applied research requirements in this space I’d be delighted to see how ARCH can assist you through its various industry support mechanisms.  claire.timon@ucd.ie

  1. Forster H, Walsh MC, Gibney MJ, Brennan L, Gibney ER, Ng M, et al. Personalised
    nutrition: the role of new dietary assessment methods. Proc Nutr Soc.2016;75(01):96–105.
  2. Gibney MJ, Walsh MC. The future direction of personalised nutrition: my diet, my
    phenotype, my genes. Proc Nutr Soc. 2013; 72(2):219–25.
  3. Stewart-Knox B, Rankin A, Kuznesof S, Poínhos R, Vaz de Almeida MD, Fischer A, et al.
    Promoting healthy dietary behaviour through personalised nutrition: technology push or
    technology pull? Proc Nutr Soc 2015; 74(02):171–6