DMU working with Leicester City Council to use AI to tackle obesity

Artificial intelligence is helping public health officials in Leicester to learn more about lifestyle and risk factors behind obesity.

Leicester City Council is working with De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) to understand more about contributing factors to obesity which puts people at increased risk of serious diseases and health conditions.

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Hundreds of different variables, from location to housing, employment, household income and mental health have been analysed alongside diet and exercise for people across Leicester.

In Leicester, less than half the population is at a healthy weight. Some 41% of children in year six are overweight, and 33% of year 11 pupils (aged 16) are physically inactive.

Ivan Browne, Leicester’s director of public health, said: “This isn’t that people are more gluttonous, or they have less willpower. Society has changed over the past 50 years.

“Work patterns, transport, food sales, changes in the constituency of the food we eat. Food is only part of the problem. It’s a complex issue. What we are trying to do is make sure people can live their lives not inhibited by excess weight in any way.

“Using AI allows us to tackle the issues with the data. We can understand more about what might be contributing factors that are associated with excess weight and allow me, as a public health director, to better focus our resources to supporting the communities we serve.”

Early data patterns suggest people who cook meals from scratch are more likely to be taking regular exercise, and that ‘hidden’ contributory factors to obesity include whether someone lives alone, has poor mental health, is aged 65 and over, or unemployed.

Findings are now being shared with a team of community practitioners so they can better support the people they care for, and a toolkit will be developed to personalise health advice. The teams will work with schools and community groups to make physical activity and diet choices easier and more sustainable to adopt.

Professor Bertha Ochieng, Professor of Integrated Health and Social Care at DMU, said: “This is the first time that the data has been analysed in this way to help us identify the interventions which are going to be most effective and show the differences between different areas of the city and the factors behind obesity.”

Dr Mario Gongora, Associate Professor in Computer Science, is working on the AI algorithm to spot patterns in the data, which comes from Sport England, the ONS, Census and Leicester’s public health teams.

He said; “The data is not new, but what is new are the patterns and links which we are able to show through the AI. It means that instead of just giving people a leaflet telling them to go for a walk, for example, to improve their health we can give specific, personalised advice that is more likely to be effective.”

The H2A programme is the latest project in DMU’s Local+ programme, a joint scheme which sees academics become consultants for the authority, applying their own and others’ research into key projects.

Last week an update on the project was given through a webinar run by Medilink Midlands, which supports the life sciences industries in the region. 

Posted on Thursday 9th February 2023

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