Harnessing Healthy Habits: A Spotlight on Wearable Technology

By Gillian Christie

Controversy and speculation surround wearable tracking devices in spite of their potential to improve health. Earlier this week, Nike hinted that its FuelBand may be discontinued after letting go of a majority of their engineering team. Other questions abound on the extent to which wearable tracking devices are accessible to all socioeconomic groups, including those who reside in the poorest communities and who at times struggle with health-related challenges. Finally, concerns exist on whether wearable tracking devices actually minimize leading chronic disease risk factors – such as physical activity and sleep – and improve health outcomes over time.

Tentative answers related to the final concern are emerging from The Vitality Group. They disseminated wearable tracking device data stemming from their workplace health program. This analysis concluded that more females use a pedometer, activity tracker, or smartphone device, though more males use heart rate monitors. The data also indicates that wearable devices are more often used by those who are overweight or obese, and that members engaging in physical activity led to reductions in high risk individuals by 22 percent (read the full report here). These conclusions are encouraging and are the first step towards more robust research.

A broader discussion of potential applications of technology for health took place on 23 April 2014. The Vitality Institute hosted a webinar on The Role of Technology in Changing Lifestyles with Richard Adler, Distinguished Fellow at the Institute for the Future. A “technology map” was presented, highlighting future innovations to transform health promotion and disease prevention in relation to leading chronic disease risk factors. This is one of the upcoming outputs of the Vitality Institute Commission on Health Promotion and the Prevention of Chronic Disease among Working-Age Americans, the findings and recommendations of which will be disseminated this June.

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