Study: Lark's AI coach could help with weight loss, diabetes prevention

By Laura Lovett
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A new study reveals that artificial intelligence could be a useful tool to help patients prevent Type 2 diabetes. The study, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, showed that patients at risk of Type 2 diabetes who used the Lark Weight Loss Health Coach AI, dropped 2.38 percent of their baseline weight and increase the percentage of healthful meals they ate by 31 percent. 

“I’m really excited,” Lark CEO and cofounder Julia Hu told MobiHealthNews. “I think stepping back and looking at pre-diabetes, it really is such a crushing and chronic condition. Eighty-six million people in the US have pre-diabetes and it costs the health industry billions of dollars a year.”

The longitudinal observational study was a partnership between six primary care offices in Nevada and southern California and Lark Technologies. The study examined 239 overweight and obese patients at risk of Type 2 diabetes. Participants were offered the app free of charge by their primary care physician. No further physician support was given to the patients, according to the study. The retrospective study looked at users from July 2016 to January 2017.

The app is personalized to meet patients’ needs and goals. The user can enter their age, gender, weight, height, and goals.

“This is really AI coaching and mimicking healthcare at its best, but the cool thing about AI is that it is infinitely scalable,” said Hu. 

The study, noted that one of its limitations was the fact that it did not have a control group to directly compare the results to. In addition, the study was observational and not experimental, which meant it was not able to determine causality. 

Lark’s HCAI has been on the market since 2015 and currently has about a million users, according to Hu. It provides weight loss coaching through modules on an array of topics in unlimited text-based counseling sessions. The modules take about 16 weeks depending on whether users miss a week of the classes or decide to rewatch a module. 

According to the study, the design takes a holistic approach to weight loss and management. It allows users to report feelings, such as guilt, and then gives the user encouraging advice based on that situation. 

“I grew up with a chronic disease all my life,” said Hu. “I had an amazing care team, my pediatrician and my dad. They were there for me not just medically but emotionally … so that made a huge impact on me, people struggling with chronic conditions could really use a friend and someone who is there for them when they need it. We wanted to scale that sense of compassion and relationship.”

The company has a healthcare committee of 15 members, including several Harvard and Stanford faculty members that specialize in psychology of some kind. 

Lark Technologies debuted in 2011 and was originally focused on sleep technologies, but have pivoted, or as Hu says, evolved. Now there are no longer field devices but the technologies sit on top of 70 different health monitors. 

“The idea was, can we create an AI coach that coaches on several different aspects of your health,” said Hu. “We started with sleep then, went to exercise, then went to nutrition and that helped us really build for chronic conditions. They are diseases that require lifestyle changes, behavioral health change, and self efficacy.”

Currently, Lark has four products on the marketing including a wellness, diabetes prevention, diabetes management, and hypertension management platforms. 

“This study demonstrates AI’s potential to provide compassionate care that is associated with weight loss, increased healthy lifestyle behaviors, and user trust that can reduce diabetes risk,” the study reads.