According to a report released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in February of 2018, worldwide obesity levels have almost tripled since the 1970’s. What once may have been a shocking revelation cam as little surprise to health professionals at the time, who’ve spent decades tackling one of the world’s weightest issues.
The stats are truly shocking. In a study published by a research team out of Boston University as recently as November, it’s reported that “Being statistically obese, but not simply overweight, was tied to a 27% increase in the odds of dying within the study period”. Worse still, it’s starting young. As of 2016, over 340 million children and adolescents aged 5 – 19 were considered overweight, which has since been shown to cut up to 10 years from their life expectancy if that trend continued into their 20’s.
In response and, in part, a desperate plea, the World Health Organisation put out a call to “…all stakeholders to take action at global, regional and local levels to improve diets and physical activity patterns at the population level…”. It’s a call that the tech industry, at least, looks like it’s gearing up to answer into the new year and beyond.
An APPropriate course of action
The role that Apps play in weight loss is up for debate, if the findings from a Bond University study are to be believed. Of the 250,000 health and fitness Apps available via the various marketplaces, they found that “…there is still very little evidence to show they actually work.”
One reason is thought to be the lack of collaboration between tech companies and experts within the field. In fact, in a study released in December 2017 it was found that only 0.05% of the 28,905 Apps examined were developed with input from qualified health professionals. “Other research has demonstrated that behavioral strategies often found in evidence-based weight loss interventions,” it said, “are only observed in a minority of weight loss apps.”.
New Apps on the market are starting to buck this trend, and SlipBuddy is one such example. “Technologists design many weight loss apps without enough input from clinical psychiatrists and psychologists,” said Bengisu Tulu, an associate professor in WPI's Foisie Business School and SlipBuddy collaborator. “However, the work carried out by this team differs by aiming to incorporate clinical tools.”
Looking at the impact of these Apps in lower income brackets where a combination of a lack of time, easy access to cheaper fast foods, and wage inequality presents a multitude of factors contributing to obesity within the most vulnerable, results from a new Duke University study were surprising. “With the help of a free phone app,” it says, “low-income obese patients with signs of cardiovascular risk lost a clinically meaningful amount of weight…”.
These results were published in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine. They highlight that both the increasing benefits of democratising access to leading health care information, advice, and support, as well as a new trend towards Apps created with the help of experts are better able to address unhealthy weight-control practices such as emotional eating, self-control, and other habits over the long-term, rather than the symptoms over the short.
Old Weigh Scales Learn New Tricks
Effective weight loss is – and always has been – about more than just pure numbers, but the oldest of all weighing technologies – the scale – continues to lag behind the recent trends, research, and revelations. Until now.
Weighing Scales are fast catching up with everyday smart devices. They offer up more than just standard statistics such as body weight and BMI which is increasingly seen as “…an outdated method that does not take into consideration muscle and actual health…”.
Instead, newer scales are taking a leaf out of the App developer's handbook in delivering advanced information such as body tracking and composition to the masses at a fraction of the cost.
Weight loss? Fat, bone, and muscle mass? Even hydration? While it makes picking out the right weigh scale trickier, it means both household bathrooms and GP offices alike are now better equipped to provide the kind of stats, facts, and motivation that get the population up and moving.
Wearing Their Heart (Issues) On Their Sleeves
In an annual survey of health and fitness professionals published in the November issue of ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal, Wearable Technology reclaimed its crown as the top fitness trend of 2019. As far as the lead author of the survey, Dr Thompson, is concerned, the return to the top spot “…may be the result of manufacturers correcting some monitoring inaccuracies of the past”.
That’s a statement that’s been reflected across much of 2018’s big conferences. Tech giant Apple, for example, doubled down on the health and fitness features present in their lineup of smartphones and, more recently, their wearable Apple Watches. Health, fitness and, in turn, weight loss, is no longer a throwaway added feature but, rather, a major focus of these devices.
“That’s because game-changing bells and whistles,” said Women’s Health Mag’s Liz Plosser in a hands-on back in September, “have elevated the Apple Watch Series 4 from an investment-worthy health accessory to a sleek and beautiful device that might save your life.”
It’s a big change in press and public opinion from earlier in the year, where The Verge stated that “…the Apple Watch is a behavioral intervention device that was created without consulting any behaviorists.”. It’s also a clear sign that Apps, Software, and Tech are converging with Health Experts, Psychologist, and other experts in the field to finally harness the untapped potential of today’s technology to create the truly transformative weight-loss devices of tomorrow.