In Austria, one in two people is overweight. Serious consequences can include diabetes or cancer, as well as cardiovascular diseases, which still remain the leading cause of death, accounting for two-thirds of all deaths in Austria. “The main problem is physical inactivity. It costs just as many lives as smoking,” explains Professor Josef Niebauer, Head of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Digital Health in Salzburg. Since May, the scientist and his seven-member team have been building the institute. For the project duration of seven years, the researcher has taken on a lot of pioneering work.
He has an annual budget of 1.3 million euros at his disposal, with 60 percent funded by the Ludwig Boltzmann Society and 40 percent provided through co-financing from partner institutions with the support of the state of Salzburg. The research partners include the University and State Hospital Salzburg (SALK), Salzburg Research, Salzburg University of Applied Sciences, the Austrian Institute of Technology, and the Paris Lodron University Salzburg.
Digital Health in Transformation
At the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute, the goal is to determine how cardiovascular patients can be supported in maintaining a healthier lifestyle through digital technologies. Based on enormous amounts of data, triggers are identified that hinder an individual from implementing good intentions. These behavioral patterns serve as the basis for further predictions of possible individual solutions and preventive measures. “If a stressed office worker repeatedly reaches for a beer bottle after a long, exhausting workday, that’s a pattern that can be resolved by examining what triggers prevent him from doing otherwise. For example, it could be a call from his daughter who wants to go for a walk in the evening,” says the researcher. Long-established poor dietary or exercise habits can be improved through subtle stimuli and hints.
However, the longer someone maintains an unhealthy lifestyle, the more difficult the transition becomes. “It’s about fundamental behavior change. The earlier you get someone on track, the better.” In the first step, only high-risk patients are examined. However, the applications or products that arise from these findings should also be of interest to healthy individuals. “After mastering the microcosm, the small model, the breadth is also important. Our goal is to develop products that support everyone in maintaining a healthy lifestyle,” says the scientist. In practice, for example, smart textiles with integrated ECG could be helpful. “This area holds enormous potential, and I would very much like to collaborate with external specialists.” Although the LBI primarily generates interdisciplinary expertise through regional collaborations and partnerships, future research will also involve international experts, institutes, and companies. The LBI follows an open approach and is guided by the principles of open innovation. As open as the approach of the LBI is, new digital technologies that will integrate into the work of researchers are likely to develop in various ways in the coming years. In this regard as well, the research conducted at the LBI is at the forefront of the digital era.