eHealth and wearables are two emerging trends as demonstrated at The International Consumer Electronics Show, the world’s gathering place for all who thrive on the business of consumer technologies, held in Las Vegas every year. This year, 40% of the scene was dedicated to “wearables” (self-measuring devices). A Google search gives 45 800 000 hits about “health gadgets” that aim to help you stay fit and healthy.
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The wearable technology market, today at a $3- to $5 billion a year, is booming and it is expected to skyrocket to $30- to $50 billion in the next two to three years. ABI Research estimates that the total number of such devices will further grow from 16.2 million units in 2011 to 93 million units in 2017. Activity trackers are the most attractive segments within the market and are under continuous development. According to a recent report, Fitbit, Jawbone, and Nike FuelBand, shares 97 % of activity tracker market, and currently dominate this market. San Francisco-based Fitbit shipped 67 percent of all activity tracking devices in 2013. In the future it is expected that market for wearables will expand to other customer segments than fitness enthusiasts. A significant development of physiological instrumentation in combination with availability of mobile interaction platforms and computational power accelerates the trend. Numerous suppliers have jumped on this train to position themselves, with big brands in the forefront. However, despite feature-rich products, all these are unable to provide users the most important answer: Is my activity level sufficient to stay healthy?
From common people’s perspective, we know from large health surveys that 50-70 % of people above 30 years reports that “prevention of diseases” is their main motivation for exercising. Performance, weight loss, muscle gain etc. are less important goals for the majority of people. The fundamental questions are obvious: How can people know if they have a sufficiently active lifestyle, and how can healthcare institutions follow up adherence to interventions? The key is to measure in order to adopt. There is an apparent need for a more accurate, yet simple and unified recommendation about activity level, which directly links to individuals’ health.
However, all of them do nothing but to present measured data, with exception of semi-quantitative assessments of workouts. To compete, “feature overload” seems to be the main strategy, by including sleep quality, calorie balance, hydration, oxygen saturation of your blood, skin temperature, sleep quality etc. Further, people can compete through social media on various measures like number of steps and kilometres. However, all suppliers struggle with the same thing; these devices appear irrelevant for the mainstream market. Most people simply don’t care about pulse zones or complicated graphs of sleep quality, oxygenation of their blood, skin temperature etc. The challenge for these suppliers is to “cross the chasm” from fitness- or gadget enthusiasts over to the majority of potential users. Despite an overwhelming amount of features, these devices fail to answer the most obvious question that really matters for people: “Am I active enough to stay healthy?” It’s not a trivial task to answer this question. A necessity to provide such a solution is a technology that can measure and analyse biometric parameters, computational models that accurately describes the underlying mechanisms between physical activity and health, and science with large-scale epidemiological and clinical studies to calibrate such a model. One could argue that it is just to follow health authorities guidelines for physical activity and then one are on the safe side. I would say that that is today the best you can do.
However, to make things complicated new large studies in the US, and upcoming studies from Norway shows that it is not as simple as following today’s advice for physical activity or not to be protected or not from life style related diseases and premature death. To simplify it, you have to exercise so that your fitness level increases to be on the safe side! How to achieve that is individual and depend upon a range of factors. In a multidisciplinary team of physiologists, medical doctors, engineers and end-users we are working intensively to come up with a easy-understandable-for-every-one Personalized Activity Index that tell you how active you have to be (based upon a few easy-available health inputs) in order to be protected against life-style related diseases and premature death. We do hope that we can presented this to the public a before the summer of 2015. The good thing is that it probably will be available for a low or no cost in terms of money for you, but expect to offer some sweat and tears, but it is doable for absolutely everyone. The video gives you a teaser what we are aiming for.
Exercise Gadget as Christmas Present?
I think the slogan used by one of the biggest players in this market summarizes what today’s e-health gadgets and wearables can give you today: “Optimize your health with charts and graphs”. This is not for the mass-market and the regular man/woman that exercise for the sake of their own health – this is for the “first movers” that buy any new device with any type of gamification because it is cool and they think they need it. This is comparable to when the synthesiser was invented and “all musicians” used it, and when Photoshop was launched and all photographers used it with all thinkable and unthinkable filters – for “a minute” because the technology was available – not because it was needed.
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Hope for the new Apple Watch that will be launched next year? It is always hope, but from what they present on the web they will have less features than what already is presented in the already criticized Microsoft Band and Fitbit. Apple Watch seem to simply the way of quantifying physical activity according to the advice from health authorities worldwide, but the only thing you need to do so today is an old fashion watch that tell you how long you have been physical active. I would save the money and until an evidence-based ground-breaking concept evolve that tell you what you need in order of physical activity to stay healthy, and that is proven better than the health authorities advice for physical activity. Up to then – keep up the good work and follow health authorities advices for physical activity – and save your money!
Ulrik Wisløff, Professor and head of CERG