Pav Kalsi, Clinical Director and Co-founder of Launchpad company Planet Nourish, shares how they are on a mission to offer a culturally tailored approach to support healthy lifestyle change for ethnic communities.
Despite several ethnic groups being disproportionately affected by diet-related conditions such as Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, current diet and lifestyle health interventions are not culturally competent and don’t go far enough to meet their health needs.
Ethnic groups, who represent over 18% of the English population1, experience health inequalities compared to the rest of the population. For example, compared to their White counterparts, South Asians (mainly Indian, Pakistani, or Bangladeshi background) are up to six times more likely to have Type 2 diabetes2, tend to develop the condition at a younger age, display poorer diabetes management and are increased risk of serious health complications, such as coronary heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure, compared to their White counterparts3. The COVID-19 pandemic shone a light on these health inequalities, but now there is a risk that the disruptions to healthcare caused by the pandemic could worsen long-term outcomes and exacerbate existing health disparities in these communities4.
Culturally tailored solutions are desperately needed
The reality is many ethnic communities cannot relate to the diet and lifestyle advice in existing self-management education programmes, which tend to be more geared to White populations. People are often left feeling confused, frustrated, and isolated and it is usual for them to resort to informal, inaccurate, sometimes unsafe, information.
There is a distinct lack of widely available and culturally tailored digital interventions for diet-related conditions, despite research showing that this is a key factor in improving accessibility to healthcare advice and optimising health. Culturally tailoring interventions is more than just a case of translating dietary advice. It’s about truly understanding communities and involving them in the design process, it’s about leveraging cultural beliefs, traditions and practices and celebrating the positive aspects of culture.
How it all started
At Planet Nourish we have experienced these issues first-hand, with many of our family members having at least one diet-related long-term condition. In fact, Planet Nourish was born from our CEO Angela’s experience with her mum’s recovery from illness – finding no culturally relevant support from the NHS, she resorted to tailoring her parent’s everyday diet and within a year her mum had completely returned to good health.
When the pandemic hit and reports about how Black and South Asian people were being unequally affected by COVID-19 were coming out, it reasserted what we already knew. At the peak of the pandemic, the team at Planet Nourish set to work. Ultimately, we were (and still are!) passionate about reducing health inequalities and levelling the playing field for ethnic communities. Our mission was to reduce the impact of diet-related conditions in diverse populations by building ethnically tailored solutions. Roll on two years, after lots of research and several Zoom-meetings, we had developed our very first app.
What does the app do?
Linking for the first-time heritage and health, our app utilises our unique, theory and evidence-based 3C (Cooking, Coaching and Community) approach to support healthy lifestyle and behaviour change for ethnic communities. The components of the app are based on our deep experience of working with these communities.
Food and community are at the centre of many ethnic cultures, they are also key drivers of positive health behaviour change. Therefore, our approach is food-led, with healthier adaptations of traditional meals via live cooking demos, and peer support is encouraged via the community feed. Group-based coaching is a way to tackle cultural barriers and challenges, and address common myths, whilst personalised coaching uses specific behaviour change techniques to help individuals reach their health-related goals.
What we’ve achieved so far
We currently have over 3,000 people in our community with over 350 downloads of our app in the first 12 weeks. We have initially focussed on South Asian communities with prediabetes or Type 2 diabetes and zoomed into several ethnicities, the largest so far are Indian Punjabi, Indian Gujarati and Pakistani. One-to-one coaching has enabled us to gather data on key clinical metrics eg weight, HbA1c (blood glucose level) and medication use, and non-clinical metrics such as confidence, acceptability and motivation.
What our Nourishers have achieved so far:
- Average 2% blood sugar reduction in 12 weeks
- 8% reduced or stopped their diabetes medication
- 60% lost an average of 5% weight in 12 weeks
- 91% attendance to our weekly live sessions
We’ve noticed a ripple effect, with over 70% of our users being the main female in the household, they’ve been able to influence the health of others in their extended family.
What some of our Nourishers have said:
“I joined Planet Nourish a few months ago. I just got my HbA1c report today, and my blood sugars have gone down from 8.8 to 5.8, over 6 months. It’s because of Almighty Allah and Planet Nourish. I achieved it without a single dose of medicine. I was still able to eat rice, roti, pasta, fruits, treats etc but of course I learnt portion control from Planet Nourish. Thank you, I love you guys.” Gul, Pakistani woman
“Most importantly I found a community of people that truly understand what it means to be a South Asian with this condition.” Pragati, Gujarati woman
“I have been on every health programme going – but I have never seen myself reflected in any other programme.” Ranjit, Punjabi woman
Our vision is to become a widely available service in the NHS, reaching other ethnic communities and addressing other diet-related conditions.
Being part of the DigitalHealth.London Launchpad programme has really helped to develop our much-needed service and we are now in a position to launch a short-term opportunity for a FREE six-month pilot service for up to 200 users in the NHS, particularly in ethnically diverse areas with a mainly South Asian population in West and East London, Midlands and Yorkshire.
If this is something you or your organisation might be interested in, please get in contact for further details:
Pav Kalsi RD MSc, Clinical Director
- Meeks et al (2016). Disparities in type 2 diabetes prevalence among ethnic minority groups resident in Europe: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Intern. Emerg. Med. 2016, 11, 327–340.
- Hanif and Susaria (2018). Diabetes and cardiovascular risk in UK South Asians: an overview. Br J Cardiol 2018;25(suppl 2):S8–S13
- Hartmann-Boyce et al (2020). Diabetes and COVID-19: Risks, Management, and Learnings From Other National Disasters. Diabetes Care; 43(8): 1695-1703.
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Planet Nourish is on cohort 5 of the DigitalHealth.London Launchpad programme.
The DigitalHealth.London Launchpad is a collaborative programme funded by two of London’s Academic Health Science Networks – UCLPartners and the Health Innovation Network – MedCity, CW+ and receives match funding from the European Regional Development Fund.