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Esther Dyson's Population Health Dream

Scott Mace, for HealthLeaders Media, May 14, 2013

Imagine a city where people bent on unhealthy living encounter a series of interventions at their work, home, local eateries, and schools. Where healthful food is subsidized and a few extra-fatty meals are zapped from the local restaurant menu. Prize-laden contests would motivate citizens to be physically active. And technology would measure it all, from the activities and rewards to population's health indicators.

Dyson, the entrepreneur, plans to take a page from the Internet age, where user adoption typically starts at the price of free. Her initiative, launched at Health:Refactored, would approach the many makers of fitness devices and sensors with the following proposition. "If you give us your thing for free, we'll give you a population of 80,000 and we will promote it very heavily, and try and get everybody in town to use it," Dyson says.

Dyson's working title for this initiative, which she unsuccessfully tried to get funded by the XPrize Foundation, is HICCUP, for Health Intervention Coordinating Council, "and the UP is just because it needs something at the end," she told me in an interview Monday.

If Dyson is crazy, she's crazy like a fox. This is a country obsessed, after all, with the inter-city rivalries of its professional sports teams. She wants to tap into that frenzy, to seed five such communities to compete against each other, over 3 to 5 years, to demonstrate the huge difference she believes a coordinated, tech-powered community-wide healthy lifestyle push could make.

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