Promoting the wellbeing of K Group staff with artificial intelligence

How can I have more energy and feel better? Is it possible to prevent diabetes with the right sort of diet? Kesko’s occupational healthcare services sought new ways to address these concerns through MealLogger coaching for K Group personnel at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. For five weeks, each MealLogger coaching group member took photos of their meals and shared them with the rest of the group as well as with artificial intelligence (AI) which analysed the meals.

K Group tested MealLogger coaching, which is part of the Forum Virium Helsinki Kalasatama Wellbeing experimental programme, for the first time in summer 2018. Kesko is currently building its new K-Kampus headquarters in Helsinki's Kalasatama, and is one of the active developer partners in the Kalasatama district.

Nine K Group employees were selected for the first MealLogger test group, all of whom were at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

“Several studies have shown that it is possible to prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes by making changes to your lifestyle. Means of prevention include exercise, a healthy diet, weight management and not smoking,” explains senior physician Pirjo Anttila of Kesko’s occupational health services.

The test group members used the MealLogger mobile application for five weeks to help them make the right food choices. In addition, they met with a nutritionist once a week for the five weeks. The group members supported and spurred each other on, and through the application they experimented with different dietary choices and received nutrition information. 

Senior physician Pirjo Anttila (left) of Kesko’s occupational health care services and Kesko employee Mari Hyvönen, who is in charge of toy and games procurement. Hyvönen participated in the MealLogger training, and both women consider the application an innovative and effective way to promote wellbeing.

Test group members share their photos and tips

An important part of the MealLogger coaching programme involved the group members taking a photo of each meal every day and sharing them with each other through the application. The meals were also analysed by a nutritionist with the aid of AI to determine their healthiness and effectiveness in helping to prevent diabetes.

One of the participants was Kesko employee Mari Hyvönen, who is in charge of toy and games purchasing.

“I joined the coaching programme at the suggestion of an occupational health nurse. Keeping a record of what I ate and drank was easy for me, as I always have my smartphone with me and I’m used to sharing my life on social media anyway. It might not be so suitable for everyone," says Hyvönen.

"One benefit of the app was that it was possible to take nutritional tests at the times that were most convenient for the individual user. For me though, the group meetings were the most rewarding part. It was nice to chat with the other group members and get tips on good snacks, for example. The coaching could have continued for longer – instead of the normal three months it was held for only five weeks this time, on account of the upcoming summer holidays. Fortunately, we have agreed on a follow-up meeting in the autumn, and in preparation for that we will take pictures of our meals for a week”.

We asked Mari Hyvönen how her diet had changed during the coaching.

“I got some good tips on how to use oils and fats, and I’ve made permanent changes to my diet. In the past, I thought I was eating healthily when I had a salad without any dressing. Now I know that the body needs good fats, so I add olive oil to my lunch salad. I have switched to vegetable fats for good,” she says.  

The coaching placed strong emphasis on the importance of snacks in a balanced diet. The test group members shared healthy snack tips with each other. For this snack, even the MealLogger AI awarded five stars!

More digital services to promote wellbeing tested this autumn

CEO Michael Quarshie of Wellness Foundry, the company behind MealLogger, says the app is being developed continuously based on user experience and feedback.

“We are particularly interested in user experiences of how well the AI feedback on photos works combined with conventional nutrition guidance. We can see that combining the most effective elements of conventional nutritional guidance, such as peer support and personal instruction, with the strengths of new technology will bring even better results. A preliminary estimate by AI of meal images enables a dietary professional to focus on communication with customers rather than having to analyse basic data,” says Quarshie.

K Group’s second MealLogger group launched in September. In the autumn, another, slightly different training programme called ViaEsca is also being tested. The test groups for both programmes filled up quickly after being advertised on K Group's intranet.

“The ViaEsca programme is based on tracking using Polar activity bracelets. The training itself lasts three weeks, during which time the group members learn to eat healthily with the help of a pre-prepared nutrition programme. The coaching is carried out using mobile devices, with remote support from a nutrition coach. We will gain plenty of informative experiences from both of these test programmes, which will help us in designing the K-Kampus occupational health services, for example,” explains Anttila.

Anttila sees plentiful future opportunities for promoting wellbeing and nutrition with the aid of digital solutions.

“People in the trading sector are used to working together, so MealLogger’s coaching seems very well suited for K Group personnel. We at K Group want to take care of our staff while at the same time developing new digital services for our customers. I’m confident that digital services related to wellbeing and nutrition will support conventional occupational healthcare, and that they can also be part of K Group’s services to customers,” Anttila adds.

During her long career in occupational healthcare, Anttila has become more and more convinced that diet is crucial to maintaining good health.

“Many people understand the basics of good nutrition and wellbeing, but for some reason this knowledge is often difficult to put into practice. Applications that promote wellbeing and nutrition make it possible to tailor support to a wide range of needs. The primary need of the participants in the first MealLogger test group was to prevent diabetes, but for other groups it could be gut health, weight control or food allergies, for example,” says Anttila.

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