Open Innovation Call to Tackle a Big Killer

Published Oct-09-15

Breakthrough:
A data-driven open innovation challenge leads to new suites of software tools to tackle the rising tide of obesity.

Company:
Department of Health and Human Services/deBeaumont Foundation, United States

The Story:

Open Innovation Call to Tackle a Big Killer In many of the world's developed countries, people are fat and getting fatter. Rich western diets and a couch potato lifestyle conspire to create shirt button-popping girths. Despite many public health programs and dire warnings about the health consequences of being overweight, not to mention the social stigma, obesity is still a major public health problem.

In an attempt to tip the scales back into a favorable direction, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) in the USA, the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK and other partners launched the Obesity Data Challenge. This was an open innovation call to innovators, developers and data enthusiasts to develop apps, visualizations and data tools to help tackle obesity in adults. The aim was to harness reams of open data in both the US and the UK to support overweight people and their clinicians.

“There is a real opportunity to combine health data from any one of our governments as well as from a whole bunch of other data resources to try to outline the underlying causes of obesity," said Damon Davies, Director, Health Data Initiative, DHHS. "... to really drive some data-driven and actionable opportunities for people to take different steps in the course of their life and really impact their own level of obesity.”

Participants competed for $40,000 in prizes, and organizers were not overly prescriptive in what they were after. Essentially, they presented developers with the problem and the facts, provided the data and challenged them to come up with out-of-the-box innovations that health services wouldn’t necessarily come up with or think of themselves.

Open Innovation Winners

The winning US entry was 'Healthdata+Obesity'. This is a curated dashboard with customizable data visualizations that helps health officials discuss with patients the root causes of obesity and provides simple ways of contextualizing the data.

The winning UK entry was 'Pounds for Pounds', a prototype software tool to demonstrate to opinion leaders, policy makers and the public the scale of the obesity problem in their local areas and the costs to the National Health Service. Users can type in their zip code or select places on the program's map to uncover a raft of useful information, such as the number of people in a city who are overweight and the total cost of this excess baggage to the NHS.

Among the other winners were an app for clinicians to engage patients in data-driven conversations about their health and an interactive neighborhood map of obesity in the US. This provides a high-resolution visualization of the prevalence of the epidemic.

New Era of Collaborations

In throwing open the challenge to a diverse mix of solvers, the Obesity Data Challenge resulted in a number of novel approaches and tools that is hoped will usher in a new wave of collaborations to tackle one of the biggest health problems of our time.

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