Internet-Based Lifestyle Intervention to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes Through Healthy Habits: Design and 6-Month Usage Results of Randomized Controlled Trial

Marja Harjumaa (Corresponding Author), Pilvikki Absetz, Miikka Ermes, Elina Mattila, Reija Männikkö, Tanja Tilles-tirkkonen, Niina Lintu, Ursula Schwab, Adil Umer, Juha Leppänen, Jussi Pihlajamäki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Type 2 diabetes can be prevented through lifestyle changes, but sustainable and scalable lifestyle interventions are still lacking. Habit-based approaches offer an opportunity to induce long-term behavior changes.

OBJECTIVE: The purposes of this study were to describe an internet-based lifestyle intervention for people at risk for type 2 diabetes targeted to support formation of healthy habits and explore its user engagement during the first 6 months of a randomized controlled trial (RCT).

METHODS: The app provides an online store that offers more than 400 simple and contextualized habit-forming behavioral suggestions triggered by daily life activities. Users can browse, inspect, and select them; report their performances; and reflect on their own activities. Users can also get reminders, information on other users' activities, and information on the prevention of type 2 diabetes. An unblended parallel RCT was carried out to evaluate the effectiveness of the app in comparison with routine care. User engagement is reported for the first 6 months of the trial based on the use log data of the participants, who were 18- to 70-year-old community-dwelling adults at an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

RESULTS: Of 3271 participants recruited online, 2909 were eligible to participate in the RCT. Participants were randomized using a computerized randomization system to the control group (n=971), internet-based intervention (digital, n=967), and internet-based intervention with face-to-face group coaching (F2F+digital, n=971). Mean age of control group participants was 55.0 years, digital group 55.2 years, and F2F+digital 55.2 years. The majority of participants were female, 81.1% (787/971) in the control group, 78.3% (757/967) in the digital group, and 80.7% (784/971) in the F2F+digital group. Of the participants allocated to the digital and F2F+digital groups, 99.53% (1929/1938) logged in to the app at least once, 98.55% (1901/1938) selected at least one habit, and 95.13% (1835/1938) reported at least one habit performance. The app was mostly used on a weekly basis. During the first 6 months, the number of active users on a weekly level varied from 93.05% (1795/1929) on week 1 to 51.79% (999/1929) on week 26. The daily use activity was not as high. The digital and F2F+digital groups used the app on a median of 23.0 and 24.5 days and for 79.4 and 85.1 minutes total duration, respectively. A total of 1,089,555 habit performances were reported during the first 6 months. There were no significant differences in the use metrics between the groups with regard to cumulative use metrics.

CONCLUSIONS: Results demonstrate that internet-based lifestyle interventions can be delivered to large groups including community-dwelling middle-aged and older adults, many with limited experience in digital app use, without additional user training. This intermediate analysis of use behavior showed relatively good engagement, with the percentage of active weekly users remaining over 50% at 6 months. However, we do not yet know if the weekly engagement was enough to change the lifestyles of the participants.


Original languageEnglish
Article numbere15219
JournalJMIR Diabetes
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 11 Aug 2020
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


We would like to thank the Strategic Research Council at the Academy of Finland for funding our “Stop Diabetes—from knowledge to solutions” project in 2016-2019 (303537).


  • Behavior change support system
  • Digital behavior change intervention
  • Habit
  • Internet intervention
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Web-based intervention


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