Interview to Mitzi Laszlo

Discover INNIT, a solution that encourages people to adopt a healthier lifestyle by helping them understand their daily behavior- and offering rewards to change it for the better

Interview to Mitzi Laszlo

Mitzi Laszlo

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Discover INNIT, a solution that encourages people to adopt a  healthier lifestyle by helping them understand their daily behavior- and offering rewards to change it for the better. 

 

Modern life is riddled with abundant processed food and ease towards sedentary life, making being unhealthy the default. Immediate indulgence comes before long-term health benefits and sugar comes before vitamins and fiber. Chronic diseases are killing astonishing numbers around the world, poor and rich. 

The main causes of said diseases begin in our supermarkets where we choose our food, as well as our level of physical activity, tobacco and alcohol consumption. The ‘Big Four’ are costing us record-breaking amounts a year in treatment, amounts that are on the rise. The probability of chronic disease can be drastically reduced by making small changes in our lifestyles starting in our homes and at our supermarkets.

Mitzi Laszlo, a specialist in neuroscience and the study of motivational behavior, sought to design a solution to this problem. Combining her business studies at IE Business School in Madrid, and neuroscience at King’s College London as well as her research into decision making in a Brazilian cohort, she created Innit. Innit is a behavioral tracking and rewarding solution that can help citizens everywhere to understand the impacts of their own habits their long term health, and nudge them to improve. By offering incentives and rewards for their progress towards a healthier lifestyle, Innit offers a preventative solution.

Tell us a bit about the neuroscience research on behavioral conduct in the Brazilian cohort…

After studying Business in Madrid, I travelled to a town in Brazil to work in a Wellcome Trust sponsored epidemiology initiative that tracked physiological data and life habits of citizens over a lifetime. The Pelotas cohort started in 1982 and then repeated every 11 years, backed by the World Health Organization. The group I worked with published a Lancet special edition on physical activity. My task was to design experiments regarding motivation in health behavior for the coming 2015 cohort. Of the 4,000 people born each year, there was a range of physical activity levels, which was very much associated with multiple health indicators. The question is, why are there such degrees of variation in the decisions we make that affect our health?

Was your work about motivational patterns the inspiration for Innit?

Absolutely. While designing different motivational experiments in Brazil I realized that we knew a fair amount on the subject of decision-making but we were not applying it in practice. The incentives in medicine are such that we are driven to treat, not prevent. No medical system pays you to be healthy. In the past decade there has been a turning point in the leading causes of global mortality from infectious disease to NCDs. The incentives of our medical institutions are best designed to deal with treatment of infectious disease, not prevention of NCDs such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases. By combining my neuroscience and business background, I could connect the dots between these two areas to design a mechanism that would motivate people to incorporate healthier habits in their daily life. This is how Innit was born.

Since motivation is driven by the pursuit of a reward, what is the reward that Innit sets?

Of course good health and quality of life is the final benefit, for people to change their behavior. Unfortunately, the reward of good health is sometimes too far away in time from the event of shifting health behavior that some people fail to shift. Innit gives immediate monthly financial rewards to the user depending on their habits. The main health behaviors would be a balanced diet, physical activity, limited tobacco and alcohol use. Choices determine the Innit reward. For example, if an Innit user chooses to buy apples instead of muffins, he or she would get a reward in the form of cash back. The Innit user pays less for the shopping cart and gets a healthier trolley- it´s a win-win for the user.

The core of the idea driving Innit is to let the user own their health. By measuring the status quo in your own health you are empowered to make decisions that lead you to greater happiness and quality of life. Innit shifts the reward to when and where it matters: while we are still healthy in the moment we chose what to eat in the supermarket. You can also track your progress and its impact on your body through physiological measurements. In this way Innit can be completely personalized to adapt to every customer, reflecting their habits and the changes in them over time. There are 4 major contributing factor to NCDs (Non-communicable diseases, which cannot be transmitted and/or are not infectious) that we have concentrated on: physical activity, diet, tobacco, and alcohol. By understanding our emotional impulses we are able to help the user help themselves.

Innit is quite a new venture… how big is the team behind Innit? Do you have a small crew backing you up, or do you serve as the driving force behind the project?

I am currently being sponsored and mentored by an SME called Sensenet. They´ve provided me with basic funding, guidance, and network taking Innit from a concept to a first business plan. Recently I’ve been going to many conferences and connecting with people to find influential players and sponsors that could help develop the business.

Now that we mention it, what are the benefits for supermarkets? How can they profit from an initiative such as Innit?

A positive corporate image, mainly. Supermarkets worry more about public perception now, and a positive, healthy attitude towards their customers will help them a lot. Some franchises have already taken steps in this direction by, for instance, moving the sweets away from the counter, where children are often tempted. We are in the process of talking to several insurance firms and supermarkets around the world to explore the launch process and form.

From neuroscience to epidemiology, and finally prevention… how did that shift happen? 

I have always been a neuroscientist at heart with a strong interest in health. Working in epidemiology was just an aspect within the neuroscience projects that I was developing at the time, but I have always been curious about several disciplines. The magic happens when you can link subjects together in a way that enhances both areas.