Promoting Lifelong Healthy Habits through Design – an Introduction

By Ken Smith, Senior Research Scholar and Director, Mobility Division

“If you had a chance to change your fate, would you?”
– Princess Merida from the film Brave

When I have the opportunity to stand in front of an audience and talk about exercise and diet, I often start with the question “would anyone here like to start by defending extended TV watching and poor diet?” To date, no one has taken me up on the offer. Yet the majority of people do not have healthy eating habits and are not as active as they should be to optimize their health. For years, academic researchers, government bodies, and foundations have been publishing large volumes of information highlighting what we all should do to promote our own wellness: be more active, eat better, be social, build financial resiliency. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that these efforts haven’t had the impact we hoped they would in changing lifestyles.

The issue then, isn’t just to convince people of what they should (or shouldn’t) be doing – it’s to help them find ways to do it. That’s the premise of the 2017-2018 Stanford Center on Longevity Design Challenge, “Promoting Lifelong Healthy Habits through Design”. We are looking for young designers, engineers, social scientists, budding medical professionals and creative teams from any discipline to think about how we can lead people to make healthier choices repeatedly – until they become habits.

Unlike some of our previous challenge topics, this one will require thinking about living long and well as a lifelong process. Habits are built over a lifetime and in many cases the ones formed early in life will have the biggest impacts. So while interventions targeting retirees will be welcome, so will designs that help young working professionals, college students, and even children build strong habits for a lifetime.

We recognize that this is not a simple subject, as effective designs will require that you think about how people make choices (psychology/marketing), what makes them healthy (medical/psychological research), and how to create products and services that affect decisions (design/business). To understand the landscape better, this year we at the Stanford Center on Longevity will be spending time reviewing the scientific literature, finding examples of successful and unsuccessful designs, talking with experts, and sharing what we find through this blog. Together, perhaps we can find some new ways of attacking this problem, which is central to improving wellness in the population (more on that claim in future blogs). We hope you will join us for the journey and we welcome your comments and suggestions.

NEXT: What leads to long and healthy lives?

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Ken Smith joined SCL in July of 2009 as a Senior Research Scholar and Director of Academic and Research Support. He currently is Director of the Center’s Mobility Division. He works closely with SCL’s faculty colleagues to determine where Stanford expertise can best be used to drive change. He brings a broad background of over 20 years of management and engineering experience to his role, including positions in the computing, aerospace, and solar energy industries. He developed a special expertise in working closely with university faculty to develop projects while at Intel, where he was deeply involved in the creation and management of their network of university research labs. He serves on the Advisory Council for AgeTech West. He holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Illinois with an M.S. from the University of Washington.