Singapore: from investment to a thriving startup ecosystemlink
By Tushar Vashisht
30 March 2021
There is a rising global interest in personal health and fitness. It is a trend that is driven by millennials and working professionals, and we see this taking off in Southeast Asia, as reflected in the growing use of health and fitness apps.
In Singapore, the apps’ use grew by over 330 percent over the last three years and 75 percent of people who use them actively engage with the app at least twice weekly. In neighbouring Malaysia, the fitness industry is growing rapidly (with the segment’s market volume estimated to reach US$53 million by 2024) as millennials are working towards leading a better and healthy lifestyle.
As lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and obesity continue to rise in the region, there will be demand for all-inclusive solutions that help people adopt a holistic approach to health and wellness. It is here where artificial intelligence (AI) can help crystallize their efforts.
Health and wellness must be approached holistically, taking into account nutrition and a balanced diet, rather than just exercise to lead a healthy lifestyle. We observed that people are more willing to adhere to their health and wellness plans if there is a human element, namely physical coaches who can provide guidance. While we work closely with qualified nutritionists and trainers, scaling our service could only really happen if they are digitally-powered, which AI has proven to be the catalyst.
Before we launched our AI-powered personal fitness coach Ria in 2017, we could only serve about 100 customers per nutritionist. After Ria, we managed to drive this number up to 270. This is because Ria can answer personalized questions on nutrition, meals and fitness based on each user’s lifestyle habits, recommending diets based on one’s physical condition, fitness goals, body type and eating habits.
Ria also looks at data daily and can immediately advise on workout regimens and diet plans. This helped take the load off human nutritionists by answering most common queries and letting humans take over when the queries get too complex. In fact, such is Ria’s popularity that she has started handling more queries than our human nutritionists. This could be due to the non-judgmental nature of an AI, or Ria’s instantaneous availability compared to humans who respond based on their availability during working hours.
A key benefit of AI is that it helps people adopt better health habits so that they remain healthy and reduce the burden on healthcare services. When integrated with a consumer health application, the technology can help users proactively manage their health habits and lead healthy, fulfilling lives.
Over the past year, we observed that many users are taking their personal health and wellness more seriously than ever. This is reflected in the 30 percent organic surge in user traffic, engagement and retention. User engagement increased from five sessions per week pre-COVID to 7.5 sessions a week. The number of foods that people tracked on our app increased from 40-50 times per month pre-COVID to over 70 times a month.
Instead of hiring more human nutritionists to cater to more consumers, we see AI as an opportunity to further optimize and scale our services. For example, the data collected by Ria also complements advice from our human nutritionists, helping them provide better feedback, guidance and support to users. Over time, analysing data on health habits can offer unique insights into both an individual’s and the population’s health, which can benefit healthcare professionals and other organizations.
Tushar Vashisht is the Co-Founder and CEO of HealthifyMe, Asia’s leading digital health start-up that has helped over 20 million users become healthier and fitter using a combination of artificial intelligence and human advice. The platform offers localised health content, calorie tracking, meal plans, fitness workouts and health advice.