Developing a healthy lifestyle by measuring physical activity and diet

The 4TU.Federation has awarded a total of 22 million euros to five proposals within the framework of the call ‘High Tech for a Sustainable Future’, thus giving a strong impetus to research into sustainable technology.  In doing so, the Netherlands’ four universities of technology Delft University of Technology, Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e), University of Twente, Wageningen University), are taking the lead in making a significant impact on social challenges in the long term. TU/e coordinates one of the five research programs, in which chronic disease prevention will be tackled through real-life monitoring and context-aware intervention design. 

A healthy lifestyle is key to people’s health and vitality. Physical activity and diet are two key lifestyle factors for sustainable health, which are also strongly linked with each other. In modern affluent societies where food is abundant and available 24/7, and where people are constantly seduced by companies’ marketing efforts, it is extremely challenging to stick to a healthy diet combined with regular physical activity, and many people are unable to change their habits.

Difficult to measure

Physical activity and diet share another feature: they are not only difficult to modify on the long-term, but are also difficult to measure. So far, most studies have relied on self-report, from which it is notoriously difficult to gain reliable and valid measures. Memory bias, social approval, and social desirability bias occur frequently in reporting of various aspects of dietary intake (what was eaten, how much) and in physical activity (what was done, for how long and at what intensity). Hence, objective, longitudinal measurements are urgently needed to gain more insight in actual behavior.

Combining real-life monitoring and interventions

The novelty of this program lies in combining the monitoring in real-life through sensors (food intake, physical activity and health parameters) with development of design interventions at different levels of the system (person, group, society), and evaluation of the (long-term) effectiveness of these combined interventions. The development of the interventions will address both the socio-cultural context (e.g., household type, (sub)culture) and the physical context in which products are acquired and consumed and where physical activity can take place (e.g., stores, kitchens, restaurants, parks, city squares).

Board of representatives

The program will be managed by a board of representatives of the 4 universities: Aarnout Brombacher (chair, TU/e), Rick Schifferstein (TUD), Hermie Hermens (UT), and Kees de Graaf (WUR). Marjolein van Lieshout (TU/e) is program director.