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Mobile apps and wearables show significant impact on corporate wellness

Posted by Chad O'Connor  November 19, 2013 11:00 AM

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The influx of mobile and wearable tech has paved the way for health and wellness approaches that work. And we need it.

Let’s rewind. Before smartphones and wearable trackers were ubiquitous, individuals who wanted to get (or stay) fit logged their food consumption manually, asked friends to keep them accountable, rewarded themselves for healthy behaviors (usually with less-than-healthy incentives!), tried fad diets, and, as a last resort, sought the support of nutritionists. Live and web-based fitness programs dominated the wellness space, yet obesity continued to skyrocket.

Now, with bands that track our every move (even in our sleep) and mobile apps that help us do everything from finding a farmer’s market to fitness coaching, wellness support can be immediate, reliable, and can help keep us accountable.

Corporate wellness programs that feature these technologies are leading the way on this – and for good reason. We spend most of our waking time at work and companies have a real incentive to get employees engaged. Over the last decade, healthcare premiums have increased by 113%, and employers are looking for ways to reduce this skyrocketing expenditure. Specifically, companies are looking to new technologies to engage employees in caring for their health. Why do these new apps and wearables work?

Social Accountability
Tracking and gamification are allowing employees to compete with one another on everything from their exercise to their nutrition. As an operator of an employee wellness program, I’ve seen this firsthand. Fruitable conducted a beta test last month with AMP Agency in partnership with Whole Foods Fresh Pond, and found that competition, and particularly competing in teams, drove employees to increase their fruit and vegetable consumption. Coworkers were using the app to track their own and their teammates’ progress and reminding one another regularly to eat more fruitables (personalized servings).

Aligned Incentives
Apps and wearables are also facilitating incentives by enabling accurate behavior tracking. A prime example is Virgin Pulse (formerly Virgin HealthMiles), which aims to close the $300 Billion productivity gap by engaging workforces. One of Virgin Pulse’s signature programs is a walking competition tracked by wearable pedometers. The data generated from these trackers is used to provide employees with cash rewards. The precision with which rewards are distributed reinforces the behavior and motivates future activity.

Real-Time Support
Apps make healthy choices easier by feeding us complex information in a consumable way. My favorite example of this is Fooducate, an app that allows users to scan a barcode of a packaged food and grades it (A to D), informs users of notable ingredients, and offers healthier alternatives. The app is intended to be used in the grocery store for on-the-spot decision making.

Ease of Use
Lastly, new tech has made health education and tracking less time consuming through easier engagement. Fitbit, Jawbone Up, and Nike+ FuelBand all demonstrate this with a simple wristband and mobile app combo. Ease of use was also a resounding theme after Fruitable’s beta and was cited as the key reason employees continued to use the app throughout the month. In terms of ease of use, it’s important to note that tech alone can’t do it all – it must be combined with simple, clear program structure and goals.

The more people who adopt these apps and wearables, and the sooner, the better off we all will be. Companies and employees alike will benefit from improved health, increased productivity and reduced costs. How will you use this rapidly evolving technology to support your health goals?

Lana Koretsky is Co-Founder and CEO of Fruitable, a social, gamified, and innovative approach to improving employees' health, happiness, and productivity. Fruitable uses a photo-based nutrition app to help employees incorporate more fresh produce into their diets and compete with coworkers to earn rewards.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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