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The Short Version: The creators of the Lark app believe that everyone should have help when managing a chronic health condition. The app leverages artificial intelligence to assist individuals, couples, and families with diet, exercise, and health goals to bring that belief into reality. People with chronic conditions, like diabetes and hypertension, and those at risk of developing them are Lark’s core demographic. Lark’s intuitive nudges encourage people to make healthier choices, and connected tools, like scales and sleep trackers, help the app gather more data so it makes better suggestions.
Leading a healthy, active life isn’t always easy, especially when barriers to fitness and health come from within. Many people live with chronic conditions that often limit what they eat, how they exercise, and how they go about their daily lives.
These chronic conditions can be hard to handle alone and can acutely affect relationships. They can cause friction, worry, or worse if they aren’t well-managed or even talked about.
The artificial intelligence-powered Lark app is designed to help people with chronic conditions lead healthier lives by offering timely advice and recommendations. For example, the app may remind a user to take medication at a certain point in the day or suggest what to eat based on his or her sleeping patterns.
These nudges, as Lark calls them, aren’t merely notifications or calendar reminders. Instead, they’re created based on a holistic, AI-fueled picture of the user’s chronic condition, struggles with fitness, medications, and even genetics.
Users of 23andMe, a service that traces specific genetics, can even connect their family history to Lark to ensure they make life choices that are better for their bodies.
Julia Hu, Lark’s CEO and Co-Founder, described how Lark considers genetics, weight loss and nutritional trends, and other markers when creating personalized recommendations.
“Popular diets Keto and Paleo emphasize fatty red meat,” she said. “But 23AndMe found that there are folks with a genetic variation for whom fatty red meat makes it harder for them to lose weight.”
This is just one of dozens of examples of how people who are genetically predisposed to a chronic condition can be surprised when their health efforts fall short.
“If you were a Hollywood movie star, you’d have a personal trainer, nutritionist, wellness doctor. All of these people would look at your body type and consider what works for you and what doesn’t,” Julia said. “That type of personalization makes it easier for you to be your best self.”
Though Lark provides individualized health advice, it’s also a good idea to use the service along with a family member, friend, partner, co-worker, or acquaintance. For example, couples typically have similar lifestyles and habits — from eating the same meals to developing the same activity routines.
“We try to make Lark a friend in your ear who chats with you, but there’s no better way than to have a partner or loved one go through a challenge with you,” Julia said.
Lark, available on iOS and Android and compatible with many different devices, may notify users that eating multiple servings of vegetables each day will help them lose weight. Alone, that user could more easily ignore that suggestion. However, if that user and his or her partner commit to using Lark, they can hold each other accountable to trying what the app suggests.
“Committing with a partner helps with accountability and behavior change. Harder life journeys are great when approached together,” Julia said.
If users commit to Lark with a partner, they don’t have to worry that the app will only benefit one person. Lark provides plans for individuals with diabetes, pre-diabetes, and hypertension, but it also offers coaching for people who want to lose weight or stress less.
The accuracy of Lark’s coaching is based on how much information it attains about a user. Those who want to manage their health by losing weight may be sent a wristband tracker and a scale. The app offers advice about sleep and physical activity. Individuals with high blood pressure track their blood pressure with a cuff.
Lark bases its advice on user lifestyle and habits, and the information it collects leads to more personalized suggestions over time.
Julia shared with us a piece of advice Lark offered her recently. The app tracked her sleep through her wristband and found that she was having difficulty getting the proper amount of rest. It also concluded that, when Julia didn’t sleep well, she ate differently than when she slept more soundly.
“Lark told me, ‘You’re probably going to be craving sugar, but eat some nuts instead because you want to lose weight,’” she said. “Lark also knew I was having trouble sleeping, so the app offered me coaching on that.”
Julia has worked tirelessly to develop Lark because she faced a chronic condition early in life that — while undiagnosed — was treated effectively thanks to monitoring and changes in diet and behavior.
“My dad found a pediatrician who worked with me every day for 12 years or so,” she said. “That doctor helped me change my diet and sleep as well as limit 90% of my attacks — all without knowing what the condition was.”
Julia suggests that her condition would never have improved if she hadn’t had personalized care from her pediatrician and father. Though she counts herself lucky to have a healthcare team that tailored its recommendations to her needs, Julia suggests that idea isn’t always scalable. There aren’t enough doctors and nurses to call patients and remind them to take their medicine.
Julia’s background in technology led her to recognize that AI could provide coaching and information to everyone when they needed it.
“We wanted to build a 24/7 personal health coach for anyone in the world struggling,” she said. “So, we built an AI nurse. Today, it coaches and helps about 2 million members.”
The Lark team worked with medical specialists at Harvard, Stanford, and Kaiser Permanente to ensure the app provides sound advice. Each of Lark’s programs is customizable to individuals who need coaching on specific health issues. For example, the Lark team consulted with a type 2 diabetes specialist from the largest research institute in the country to develop recommendations.
“All of our research is founded in science, but we turn that into an everyday coach that provides the right coaching at the right time,” Julia said.
Lark doesn’t inundate users with recommendations day and night, either. The team has worked with behavioral health specialists to determine the best time to provide recommendations and notifications.
“We answered the question, ‘How do you help people change behaviors and build healthy habits?’” Julia said.
Lark’s lifestyle changes aren’t so dramatic that you’ll have to change your entire routine. The team understands that users are more likely to adopt long-term changes if they’re manageable.
“We want to help people become the best version of themselves,” Julia said. “That’s one of the best ways to create sustainable change.”
Lark is designed for people in all stages of life who might have tried and failed to lose weight or develop healthier habits. Julia has worked to provide them with the personalized health coaching she received as a child. She said that AI is the only way that kind of coaching can be scalable enough to provide it to everyone who needs it.
“It’s for those who may have tried calorie counting on their own, but found themselves unmotivated,” Julia said. “Lark is like a friend who is always with you, coaching you through the tough times.”
The app isn’t about deprivation or constant monitoring of your health. Instead, it’s designed to make you worry less about managing your conditions. Lark takes over a considerable part of health management, leaving you to focus on other things.
“We help people manage and live with their chronic conditions while living a full life,” Julia said.