12 October 2016

New project to find correlations between diet and health in people suffering from sclerosis


Cut down on meat, leave out all dairy products and eat lost of leguminous fruit. Advice is plentiful when it comes to a sclerosis friendly diet, but in actual fact, not much is known about the subject. However, this is about to change by way of a new app.

Navigating advice on what to eat when you have been diagnosed with sclerosis is far from easy. A quick Google search of “diet + sclerosis” provides close to 50,000 results. It is quite a jungle to get through, not least because much of the advice is contradictory. 

In actual fact, there is very limited knowledge on this subject, something PhD student and MA in IT and Health, Astrid Karnøe Knudsen, from the Department of Public Health wants to change. She is currently working on a project that will map the correlation between diet and disease activity for people with sclerosis. The project includes the development of an app, which will form the basis of the entire data collection. Among other things, users will register what they eat, how they feel and the amount of exercise they do.

“We are convinced that both their health and the disease itself is affected by what people with sclerosis eat, only we’re not yet able to say exactly which types of produce. But instead of examining the affect of specific produce, we want to create a giant data file, which we can then use to map correlations,” Astrid Karnøe Knudsen explains. 

Users have important information
The creation of this app is based on close collaborations with the users. In order to produce usable information, it is important that users consistently register data over a longer period of time. And although the aim is finding out how and indeed if food can be used as a complementary treatment of sclerosis, it will take quite a few years to get there.

And because there is no instant pay-off, finding out what motivates users to actually register their data is crucial. Which is why Astrid Karnøe Knudsen and future users are currently working on the development of an app that people with sclerosis will want to use.

“It’s important that the app is not viewed as yet another ‘medicalization’ of the users. Being part of the project should be a pleasant experience, which is also why I spend much time with the users on trying to determine the proper format. The project is 100% dependent on them, not least because our results will be based on their information,” says Astrid Karnøe Knudsen.

We must utilize available technology
But why not use a traditional questionnaire to collect this data? There are several reasons why not. Firstly, the technology behind an app makes comparing the collected data much easier. Secondly, only few users will carry a questionnaire everywhere they go, which means that much data would be lost simply because users would forget to register everything they eat and drink.

In other words, the technological development has made it possible to register data more effectively and to a much greater extent than previously; a development that should be utilized, according to Astrid Karnøe Knudsen.

“In my project, using an app may enable us to map correlations, which previously would have demanded much greater resources, as the work would have to be carried out manually. We must seize the opportunity to increase our knowledge by way of technology in every imaginable area, whenever possible,” Astrid Karnøe Knudsen concludes.

The project is a collaboration between Scleroseforeningen (the Sclerosis Association) and the Department of Public Health, Social Medicine Section, where Astrid Karnøe Knudsen is currently completing her Business PhD with support from the Innovation Foundation. All individuals suffering sclerosis will be able to use the app, which is expected to be ready for use in spring 2017.

PhD Student Astrid Karnøe Knudsen
Email: askn@sund.ku.dk 
Phone: +45 3533 5787