Stepping Up to the Healthy Challenge
The Health Promotion Board’s (HPB) bold move to get Singaporeans to walk the talk about getting fit is well, working out.
Soon Khim Soo, IT consultant said: “Designed to encourage Singaporeans with a sedentary lifestyle to sit less and move more, the National Steps Challenge (NSC) leverages the use of empowering technology, such as a steps tracker and HPB’s Healthy 365 mobile app, to nudge participants towards a more active lifestyle by taking more steps anytime, anywhere.”
Through the app, participants are motivated to accumulate steps, track their diet and see the total calories consumed and expended daily.
It’s brilliantly simple: The more steps you take, the more rewards you earn.
As of March this year, a total of about 210,000 downloads of Healthy 365 (a top-ranked app for iOS and Android devices) while about 156,000 sign-ups for the NSC were recorded.
Anyone can download the Healthy 365 for personal tracking, while only NSC participants earn rewards for achieving milestones.
This incentive system is based on behavioural insights to motivate participants to increase their physical activity levels progressively and to sustain this behavioural change in the longer term — such that it becomes a norm.
And it’s working.
Since the Challenge started, more than 80% of the partipants have clocked enough steps to win prizes. HPB has joined forces with several partners across different industries, such as sports and wellness companies, and food and beverage establishments to offer attractive sure-win prizes at different stages of the Challenge to motivate participants.
There are useful insights gained too: The information collected also allows HPB to monitor behavioural changes in relation to physical activity levels at the individual and population levels throughout the Challenge period.
The Healthy 365 app began with a pilot in October 2014. It was then progressively enhanced and rolled out on a national level to support the National Steps Challenge.
The design team had to overcome potential hurdles for the app such as power consumption.
It was designed to work in the background and optimises the battery life of mobile phones because the team provided a low frequency GPS request so that the operating system can continue operating in the background without consuming too much power — less than 10% of a day’s use, in fact.
Accuracy was also an issue, as there are a myriad of smartphone models and the accuracy of the accelerometer tracking varies by brands, models and even shipments. This is further complicated by how users place their phones, such as in the pants pocket or handbag, which affects the steps accuracy.
Said Khim Soo: “To overcome this, HPB decided to develop a common wearable to achieve a homogenous experience across all participants for the first season of NSC.”
The HPB team also catered for participants without smart phones. They can go to participating Guardian and Sportslink outlets to sync and update their step count using the Healthy 365 Tracker Kiosk, which offers a scaled down version of the app.
Both the app and the kiosk are linked to a common database at the backend and they share the same mechanism to reward participants for milestones achieved. The original Healthy 365 and the backend system were planned and conceptualised to support numerous versions of the same app code-base for reusability, scalability and fast deployment.
For future seasons of NSC, the strategy is to leverage partners’ app or other wearable devices to retrieve step count.
The results and feedback from participants have been encouraging for the team.
“Our data also shows that active participation remained consistently high at 58% over a four-month period. We have also received suggestions to improve in areas like user experience, functionality and will take these into consideration when planning for season 2 of NSC.”
This high level of participation is unprecedented, as “it far exceeds other similar community-based interventions that uses fitness trackers, such as in the US and Australia, where the total number of participants did not exceed 4,000”.
The next step: Add-ons to expand the functionalities to improve the user experience for the long term.
“We envision Healthy 365 to be a key health tool that will help Singaporeans adopt a healthier lifestyle by empowering them to track their physical activity level and monitor their calorie intake.”
The app will also star in future seasons of the NSC, but the team is stepping up their game: everything will be ‘bigger and better’.
“We aim to attract many more new participants. There will also be new challenge categories to reach out to more people at home, at the workplace and in schools.”
Participants can expect more details in the later part of 2016.
But the overall focus goes beyond just the app or the tech.
Added Khim Soo: “Over the years, HPB has progressively raised the ante on its health promotion efforts, from raising awareness on healthy living to employing the use of behavioural insights to influence a sustained behavioural change among Singapore residents to make healthy living a part of their everyday lifestyle.”