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Thursday January 24, 2013 3:43 pm

Will fitness gadgets actually make us fit?


Fitness Gadgets Fitbit nike bodymedia

Over the past few years, a new category of gadget has emerged with the aim of quantifying our health. You know the ones--Fitbit. Nike FuelBand. JawBone Up. Withings Wi-Fi Scale (and Smart Activity Tracker!). Fitbit Aria Scale. The list goes on. There are trackers and scales from tons of companies that'll sync your details to their servers, share them with services of your choosing, giving you pretty graphs and hopeful motivation from friends and followers to do the right thing as it pertains to diet and exercise. After all, sitting is killing us. Are all of these gadgets actually moving the needle in terms of our fitness levels? Our friend, Dave Taylor, takes a closer look and chimes in with his toughts after the jump.


We eat poorly. We don't exercise. We're surrounded by junk foods that have been genetically altered to maximize shelf life and minimize transport damage, not flavor or nutrition. It's no surprise that the consequence of these changes is that we're getting fat. Not just a few pounds overweight, but substantially more, 30, 40, 50 pounds or more above optimal body weight.

Lecturing people on food quality, nutrition pyramids, organics, and the importance of physical exercise hasn't proven that effective in the overall trends, but there is something that just about all overweight people have in common with the rest of Western culture: a love of technology.

From smart phones to tablets, laptops to HDTV systems, if it can be plugged in or charged, odds are good you and I both have one in our possession.

So it's no surprise that there are a lot of startups in the health and fitness tech area. In fact, there was an entire section at the recent Consumer Electronics Show devoted to these gadgets. And it's clear, some of them are really cool, including scales that can weigh you and analyze the air quality in your house, along with wearable electronics that can even measure and track your skin temperature throughout the day.

But with our zeal for the latest tech gadget, do these things really make us more fit? If we gave everyone in the US a Nike Fuelband or a FitBit or a Bodymedia armband, would everyone really become more healthy?

The answer for most people, sadly, is no.

Withings Smart Activity Tracker

I'm the first to admit that these devices are cool, but gamifying their workout (workout? what's a workout?) and lets them compete for prizes is only works for a small subset of the population, and most of those will immediately start figuring out how to circumvent the system. (My 12yo son, for example, has learned how to game the Wii Fit, recording long runs while moving his hand up and down just a few inches while reading a comic book on the couch.)

It's a complex problem but the primary emphasis on these health tech products is movement and exercise, and I suggest that it's what we're eating that's more of a problem than how much we're moving around and exercising. And so far, the solutions in that space - smartphone apps, primarily - are clunky and too tedious to use for more than a few days.

What we need is food analysis tools so I can take a photo of my plate of food and have calories, fat, minerals, vitamins and other nutrients all instantly calculated and tallied. Couple that with the Fitbits and Withings Wi-Fi body scales of the world and we can maybe accomplish something.

But for now, let me just end by asking: Are you healthier than you were a year ago? Do you have any health tech that's an integral part of your life, and if so, how's that working out for you?

Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of everything tech. I just want us to find solutions that can help even those who are barely motivated to make any lifestyle changes reap the benefit of losing weight and gaining improved health. And that's a tough road to travel.

Dave Taylor has been involved with the online world since it involved telephones and modems. He runs the popular tech site AskDaveTaylor.com, along with the single dad blog GoFatherhood.com. You can find him on Twitter as @DaveTaylor.

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