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Mobile Health Apps – Friend or Foe

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A simple browse on any app store for health related apps will leave you overwhelmed. In 2013, there were over 31,000 health, medical and fitness apps available, according to mHealth Watch. I have to admit that I am a sucker for bright, fun and easy to use apps. However, I don’t just mindlessly use health and fitness apps, which brings me to another confession I should make – I’m such a nerd when it comes to logging data and seeing patterns. There’s something oddly satisfying about being to see what your body is doing day to day, how it varies and what factors cause things to change. However, with an incessant amount of things we are able to track, how much health monitoring is too much where it becomes almost obsessive?

On my phone, I track my blood glucose levels, the amount of carbs I eat, how much exercise I do and the number of steps I take. I am currently trialing an app that lets me monitor my weight and the amount of fruit and veges I eat. There are other apps available that allow you to track specific dietary intake of nutrients, the amount of water you drink, the number of calories you burn with each activity, your sleeping pattern and efficiency… The list goes on, and you get the picture. You can basically monitor anything and everything (even your bowel movements!).

I’ve spoken to people who have become obsessive in making sure they’re hitting all their targets that they are tracking. Questions are being asked of which supplement they should be taken to reach adequate intake of antioxidants, for example. It doesn’t surprise me that people are living on certain extremely restrictive diets because they think it’s better for their health and taking an array of supplements to hit their targets.

Even for people without diabetes, there’s increasing pressure to track something health related. Especially as fitness trackers are now becoming the norm. People question and assume you don’t care about your health if you don’t wear a FitBit. Does anyone ever miss the days of not needing to track anything and just living life free and large?

These mobile health apps are a double edged sword. They make people more conscious over their health but at the same time, it leaves them vulnerable to guilt tripping and feelings of worthlessness if they don’t achieve their targets.

Perhaps it’s good to take a step back from all this data once in a while to put things in perspective. Are we really happy with all the micromanagement we do in related to our health? Health apps were originally meant to serve as motivation and incentives to help people look after their health. Sadly it’s inevitable that a select few take these to extreme measures.

Once in a while, I like to take a break from apps and health tracking. This is particularly important in relation to food and I have a delicate balance between monitoring and obsessing over this; be it weight wise or carbs. I love eating and I will never give up foods that I love, but I am mindful of my portions. At the end of the day, I don’t really need to know how much anti-oxidants I have consumed as long as I have a variety of colours on my plate and I enjoy what I eat. There is so much more to food than just the nutrients they provide. Don’t ever forget that!

Despite all my geeky love for data, apps and tracking, it’s liberating to know that I am not ruled by my phone or my iPad when I survive these monitor-free days. Even if this means guesstimating carbs and dealing with the consequences of that. Because there is more to life than hitting every health target and doing everything right.

exercise-meme

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Pancreatically challenged, diabetes advocate, PhD student and dietitian - working to positive changes within the diabetes community and healthcare setting. Although diagnosed at age of 19 with T2DM, the type of diabetes I have is under constant debate. Finally pumping as of March 2014.

3 Comments Join the Conversation

  1. I too struggle with being overwhelmed by the 1) responsibility of it all, 2) the sheer amount of data and what the heck does it all mean, and 3) how do I tie it all together and make sense of so many different parts of my life.

    Maybe I should try just taking a little break sometimes, too… Hmmmm.

    Great, thought provoking post, Ash. Thank you!

    Reply

    • Thanks Scott. It’s hard to even taken a break cos you get that voice in your head saying ‘oh you should be logging this’ or whatever haha.

      Reply

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