Testing a smartphone app to help older adults with obesity and type 2 diabetes 

A digital health initiative could help older adults with obesity prevent the development of type 2 diabetes, or help those who already have type 2 diabetes to manage the condition. 

Weight loss achieved through lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise is a first-line treatment for both obesity and type 2 diabetes. 

With type 2 diabetes now affecting one in five older Australians and obesity affecting 40% of older Australians, the need for health services is greater than ever – but access to these services can be a problem because of things like location, financial and mobility issues. 

Digital interventions can overcome the barriers to health services. Through a Deakin Executive Dean Health Research Fellowship, Dr Jakub Mesinovic is testing whether a home-based exercise and diet digital intervention could improve the health of older adults with obesity, and a subgroup who also have type 2 diabetes. 

For the first stage of his fellowship, Dr Mesinovic is determining how feasible and effective such an intervention is in improving metabolic and musculoskeletal health among his target group.  

To do this, he is recruiting 116 older adults with obesity who may also have type 2 diabetes, for a randomised controlled trial. All participants will be prescribed a weight-loss program by a dietitian, and allocated to an exercise program prescribed by an exercise physiologist – either a home-based resistance and impact program or a walking program. Participants will access the programs using an existing smartphone app. 

For stage two of the fellowship, Dr Mesinovic is developing a prototype telehealth platform to support older adults with obesity and type 2 diabetes to self-manage their conditions from home through diet and exercise. He is bringing together older adults with type 2 diabetes and obesity, app developers, researchers and health professionals to co-design the platform – which will be a new smartphone app. 

“Incorporating the values and preferences of consumers and other stakeholders in the design of the platform will hopefully improve the adherence to, and effectiveness of, the interventions it delivers. Ultimately, this can help reduce the obesity and diabetes-related burden on healthcare services,” Dr Mesinovic said.   

Dr Mesinovic is keen to ensure his intervention is engaging and appealing for participants, to shift their perspective and behaviour towards making lifestyle changes that would improve their health outlook.  

“This project could significantly add years to people’s independence and enhance social and workforce engagement, giving them a better quality of life,” he said. 

“I aspire to show how we can effectively manage and treat obesity and type 2 diabetes at home and help people overcome challenges related to accessing health services.”