“It has already been scientifically proven that we can live to be 120 years old and our research shows that our muscles can grow beyond 90 years if we exercise properly,” says Shinya Kuno, professor at the Tsukuba University, which has spent decades working to improve the health of the elderly in Japan. He created Tsukuba Wellness Research to apply the results of his research to local communities.
Japan already has the oldest population in the world. A 2019 Cabinet Office report showed that 28.1% of Japanese in 2018 were over the age of 65 and that by 2065 that figure will exceed 38%, but Japan is not an isolated case. According to a United Nations report, the aging of the world population is accelerating: “In 2019, the world population numbered 703 million people aged 65 or over. That number is expected to double to 1.5 billion by 2050. ”These numbers show how societies are aging around the world, but Kuno Shinya’s concern goes beyond these numbers.
Make healthier what is not
Kuno Shinya has set up a program in parts of Japan that uses personal monitoring devices to collect information such as blood pressure, weight, fat level and steps taken from elderly citizens in order to record their health statistics and create a database. An incentive system has also been put in place, giving out rewards such as gift certificates to those who exercise more. A program implemented in Mitsuke City has made it possible to increase the number of steps taken daily from around 6,000 to more than 8,000 for those affected. The results showed that the health benefits could reduce medical expenses by an average of $ 500 (€ 420) per person per year, and up to $ 2,000 (€ 1,700) for those in their 70s.
The professor’s other mission is to help older people who have no active interest in being healthy adopt a healthier lifestyle. One way to do this is through the Social Impact Bond (SIB), a collaborative public-private system in which the public sector commissions results-oriented projects from the private sector to solve social problems. “The government is starting to offer benefits to individuals and local governments, which is a big step forward,” says the researcher. “We believe that the results-oriented SIB system is a very useful methodology and we currently have over 10 SIB projects underway with the support of government grants. He highlights how effective programs can be used to improve the health of older people and how data-driven policies can reduce medical costs. One of these programs is the SIB, the other the Smart Wellness City.
Kuno Shinya was drawn to the concept of the Smart Wellness City, “a city designed for people to be healthy even if they have no active interest in it”. The above examples are conscious ways to get people to improve their health, but the unconscious ways are just as effective. Tokyo, for example, has a lower number of diabetic patients compared to other cities, and the professor explains this by the fact that people walk more and use the car less. The structure of the city improves the health of its citizens. “We have to explore social technology alongside scientific technology,” he adds. In other words: What can technology do to improve the health of people, even if they are not consciously trying to be healthier?
Develop policies with AI responses
To analyze the impact of his programs on health, Kuno Shinya needed two things: data on how older people live their lives, and a way to analyze that data. The results would help local (or national) governments to develop health policies. He worked with the Life Value Creation Unit of NTT Data Institute of Management Consulting, a subsidiary of Japan’s largest telecommunications company that aims to build a sustainable society. Together, they developed the Smart Wellness City-AI (SWC-AI) program to assess health-related data and support local government initiatives to revitalize regional development and strengthen the capacity of municipalities to formulate health policies. health based on data processed by AI.
“The SWC-AI initiative is an evidence-based way to understand things at a broad level and use the data to formulate policy,” says Hiroyuki Kitano, a senior executive in the value creation unit. of life. The SWC-AI program was launched in 2020 and has already been used in around ten municipalities. All data is anonymous and provided with the consent of citizens, while being strictly secured by cybersecurity and other protection systems. The more data, the better the results, the executive explains, adding that a complete and unified medical records system is needed to take full advantage of the data. It is expected that 100 municipalities will use SWC-AI in the near future.
According to Kitano, “at the individual level, patients could benefit from uniform health care wherever they go and AI could create programs for individuals.” But the program’s initial goal is on a larger scale: to use data from, currently, 750,000 people to optimize medical costs and enable local governments to create evidence-based policies. Mr. Kitano and Mr. Kuno seek to further broaden their horizons by collaborating with more companies, both at home and abroad.
The professor’s vision is not only to use data to show people how to be healthier and to help local governments formulate policies, but also to ensure that no one is left behind in the workplace. digital age. “I want all Japanese to be healthy,” he says. “The challenge is to use the data in a way that people can see and understand it. If you do this, more people will be able to live healthy lives into their old age. With its aging population as a source of knowledge and scientific evidence, Japan continues to lead the way towards a time when living longer and healthier will be the norm rather than the exception.