The DSActive Nutrition App

The DSActive Nutrition App ‘Health Swap’ is due to be released in the coming months. In order to explain a bit more about the App, our Project Delivery Officer Guy has written a guest blog. Over to you Guy…

My experience of App design has been diverse and varied, ranging from business applications that help grow businesses with improved efficiency, productivity and engagement, to Apps for children that utilise innovative technologies such as machine learning and augmented reality to inspire children to participate in sports and be more creative.

The one constant that I’ve always been involved in App design is designing around the needs of the users. My process always starts with understanding their needs and desires first and building the best-fit solution for their unique requirements.

The DSActive Health Swap App is both a challenge I couldn’t refuse and one that’s close to my heart. My eldest brother Paul has Down’s syndrome and my mother, who’s also a trained nutritional therapist is passionate about improving quality of life through healthy eating. The family interest doesn’t stop there, both myself and my other big brother have a combined experience of thirty five years in App development and I feel that we are uniquely positioned to address the challenges that the Health Swap App posed.

When I joined the DSA in January this year I found a welcoming team and an exciting opportunity to change the behavioural habits of people with Down’s syndrome. Myself and Alex (DSActive Project Manager and a trained dietician) set about addressing these challenges.

70% of people with Down’s syndrome are overweight in comparison to the rest of the UK population in which 50% of people are overweight. As you’ll probably agree this is a significant difference and an important issue that needs addressing, which is why the government generously provided funding to give the DSActive team the opportunity to do something about it.

So when starting a design process I always start with finding out who?, what? and why?

Who is the App for? In this case it’s 1) people with Down’s syndrome, 2) their parents or 3) the main caregivers.

What is the problem we are trying to solve? We aim to help people with Down’s syndrome make healthier lifestyle choices, improve their physical and mental well-being and enhance their digital skills.

Why does the user want this? This helps us give context to why the user wants to achieve the goal, understanding their motivation and cognitive capabilities is key to effectively changing behaviour through App design.

In order to give greater context and a deeper understanding to help us answer three questions we set about talking to people with Down’s syndrome.

We broke down the target audience to those who lived in supported living and those who lived with their families. We learnt that those in supported living would have greater challenges in planning, buying and cooking and would have the most challenging needs out of both groups.

We interviewed eight people living in supported care, asking them questions around eating habits, nutrition and exercise. We observed their cognitive and digital capabilities. We observed their ability to read, use Apps, identify pictures of foods and asked them to tell us which foods are healthy or unhealthy. See our interview highlights here:

We received over 200 completed surveys from carers and family members of those with Down’s syndrome. We sought to understand the following:

  • eating behaviour e.g. whether the person with Down’s syndrome planned their meals and/or cooked for themselves and what kind of food they liked to eat
  • food shopping e.g. whether the person with Down’s syndrome shopped for food and how they did this
  • whether they felt the person with Down’s syndrome ate a healthy diet and what could help them to eat more healthily
  • how much physical activity the person with Down’s syndrome was doing and what could help them to be more physically active
  • whether the person with Down’s syndrome had a smartphone or tablet and how they used this, including whether they currently used any Apps to help them eat healthily or be active.

During our research process we discovered that measuring the success of healthy eating by simply cutting calories was neither nutritionally useful nor suitable for the audience. Our principle purpose for the App is to create easy access nutritionally rich recipes, we like healthy fats, we love our greens and we’ve tried to avoid too many unhealthy carbs and sugars. We wish to encourage our users to ‘Eat the Rainbow’ and intend to reward them badges and points for planning, shopping, cooking and eating nutritionally rich meals.

We’ve designed the App to be easy to understand and use, and also given users the ability to track, record and reward increased physical activity.

The App will educate users along a healthy journey to better living, we aim to help people with Down’s syndrome swap old unhealthy habits for healthier new ones, empowering them to lose weight and feel great!

Health Swap will be available for free on Apple and Android smartphones and tablets and is planned for launch during the summer this year.

To find out more about the App please email or call 0333 1212 300.