Wearable health devices: proceed with caution

I’m glad to see this article in ScienceDaily (below).

Fitness is a HUGE business.  One that benefits me personally as well as financially.  So I don’t begrudge other trainers or businesses trying to get in on that, especially when the consumer benefits by becoming fitter.

But there is so much snake oil out there.  And it’s so easy to sell expensive trinkets that are going to solve all of your fitness problems, essentially by saying “Why you’ve reached your goal of 10,000 steps, plus you elevated your heart rate twice today, and so you’ve burned an extra 650 calories so go ahead and eat that extra slice of king cake, just make sure it’s the ‘healthy’ kind.”

It wears me out to have to drag clients kicking and screaming back to reality.  Then I’M the bad guy.

Here’s a rule of thumb: if the new technology is recording and reporting data for you or a health professional to use to make evidence-based assessments, that’s one thing.  But if it is in any way calorie or fitness-centric, that is indicating that you have “burned more calories,” or concluding that you have to do something specific to achieve a “health goal,” be suspicious.  It’s ridiculously hard to burn a bunch more calories in any meaningful way just by increasing your activity level.

And nowadays, if this new technology is saving the data for you and encouraging you to take another walk around the block, consider that it’s just a big brother tool telling you lies so it can keep track of where to put the Burger King billboard so you will see it at the end of your walk.  Congratulations, you just burned an extra 650 calories, so go ahead, have it your way.

-jk


ScienceDaily.com

Researchers urge caution on wearable health devices

Date:  February 3, 2016

Source:  Lancaster University

Summary:
Wearable devices to monitor health are not always reliable or secure according to research. The market for digital devices like smartwatches and fitness bands is growing, with 19 million likely to be sold worldwide this year. They can measure everything from heart rate to physical activity, temperature and even mental wellbeing.

FULL STORY

Wearable devices to monitor health are not always reliable or secure according to research.

The market for digital devices like smartwatches and fitness bands is growing, with 19 million likely to be sold worldwide this year. They can measure everything from heart rate to physical activity, temperature and even mental wellbeing.

But research by Lancaster University, the University of the West of England and Nottingham Trent into the rise of consumer health wearables cautions against overenthusiasm.

The researchers said: “Devices are marketed under the premise that they will help improve general health and fitness, but the majority of manufacturers provide no empirical evidence to support the effectiveness of their products.”

Around a third of users stop wearing these devices after six months, and half after one year. Evidence for the effectiveness of these devices is anecdotal and there is little scientific evidence as to how they improve health.

While consumer wearables could be more useful for patients with conditions like diabetes or cardiac problems, current solutions are still in the early stages of development.

Dr David Ellis of Lancaster University said: “For chronic conditions, wearables could effortlessly provide detailed longitudinal data that monitors patients’ progress without the need to involve more sophisticated, uncomfortable and expensive alternatives. For instance, it is possible to identify the severity of depressive symptoms based on the number of conversations amount of physical activity and sleep duration using a wearable wristband and smartphone app.”

But although the use of pedometers is linked to an increase in physical activity and a decrease in blood pressure, there is no evidence of long term change.

The researchers said: “The reliability and validity of wearable devices is also concerning. Recent comparisons between various wearables for tracking physical activity showed large variations in accuracy between different devices — with error margins of up to 25%.”

In addition, personal data generated by the device is collected and stored by the manufacturer, not the user, and sometimes sold on to third parties, while digital traces of behaviour like location and time can be used to reveal the user’s identity.

The researchers say that devices need to be validated and standardised to ensure that wearable technology becomes an asset for healthcare in the 21st century.


Story Source:

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by Lancaster University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Lukasz Piwek, David A. Ellis, Sally Andrews, Adam Joinson. The Rise of Consumer Health Wearables: Promises and Barriers. PLOS Medicine, 2016; 13 (2): e1001953 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001953

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