For Salman Rajput ’14, the mission to encourage healthier eating is a personal one. After watching family members battle diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity, he found a way to inspire people to pursue a healthy lifestyle. “As I was growing up, I realized that healthy eating can reduce a lot of suffering,” he says. “I’m now passionate about it.”
The former biology major, now living in Cambridge, Mass., recently turned that passion into the SimpleSteps App, which sends people reminders via mobile phones to make small changes to their daily lives, such as drinking another glass of water or eating a few more vegetables. Launched in December, the app was named a Men’s Fitness “Best Fitness and Health App” for 2016.
“We feel the products in the marketplace that promised overnight changes weren’t working,” says Rajput. “It was very important for us to help people in ways that are evidence based, and the science showed that people are more likely to make small, incremental changes that could form good habits.”
“I can have my friends use it too, and we can keep each other accountable,” says Carly Carlin ’15. “It’s motivating.”
Carlin, a public health research assistant at the Boston University School of Public Health, has been involved with the app since its development stages. She helps promote it to a wider audience during her own time via the media and social media and says the social aspect of the app is a top feature.
As Rajput explains the process of turning an idea into an app, it becomes clear that it’s a complex endeavor. “Iterate, iterate, iterate,” he says. But he adds that Dartmouth classes in computer science, medical anthropology, and engineering helped him along. “Something that I liked about my liberal arts education was I learned that even if I wasn’t familiar with a subject I could figure it out,” he says.
Rajput is big on research—his SimpleSteps website lists 31 academic studies used to build the app—and he says he’s grateful for his time spent in the biology department. “It’s helpful to be able to quickly measure the validity of certain studies, or to quickly read an abstract and get the main idea,” he says.
A geography major, Carlin plans to pursue a career in public health and medicine, and says she values her experience with SimpleSteps. “It’s been illuminating talking with different users of the app, and gathering feedback, and seeing what’s effective.”
When asked about connecting with alumni, Rajput’s enthusiasm level goes up a notch. “Dartmouth alumni have been outstanding,” he says. “I’ve talked with so many alumni in the business world, in food and beverage, in media, in the start up world, people who have built successful apps, successful technology companies. I’m very familiar with the Dartmouth Career network!”