Does Fitness Data Make the Average Person Healthier?

With these handy wearable gadgets, we can now track every aspect of our health and fitness. But are they actually making a difference to the average person's well being?


Today, an increasing number of people are caring more and more about their health. As a result, fitness trackers are popping up everywhere. With these handy wearable gadgets, we can now track every aspect of our health and fitness. But are they actually making a difference to the average person’s well being?

Dr. Kyu Rhee, Chief Health Officer of IBM.
Dr. Akshat Rathi, Health and Science Correspondent for Quartz.

Content of the Panel Talk

At the very beginning of the panel, Dr. Rathi asked members of the audience to raise their hands if they were wearing fitness trackers. About 25 percent of the audience raised their hand, acknowledging they are actively tracking different aspects of their health, such as heart rates, step counts, and sleep quality.

Dr. Rhee mentioned that IBM is looking at opportunities to translate data into insights. The key lies in the meaning of the translated data, and how it changes the users’ behavior which ultimately leads to healthier outcomes.

The key to make fitness data valuable

Dr. Rhee raised three “I”s that are crucial to the fitness data.

Instrumentation: With the proliferation of IoT (Internet of Things) and wearable devices, there is an extraordinary instrumentation effort across different settings and environments. This is giving people unprecedented access to data and information that can help them understand their behaviors and actions.

Interconnectedness: The key is how to connect data across different silos.

Intelligence: It is impossible for a physician to know everything about every patient from their medical records, data from wearables, and their social, environmental, and genomic background. So it’s important to have a system that can look at all available data and translate it into a personalized insight for that individual.

Making fitness data personalized

Dr. Rathi pointed out that with most people, after wearing their fitness trackers for a few months, these gadgets are often left in the drawer. So the first issue with fitness tracking is to convince people to continue using their trackers.

To solve this issue, the key lies in engagement. This engagement has to be personalized to each individual. Each of us will produce 300 million books worth of data in our lifetime, but some of this data is not valuable. So it is important to provide valuable and meaningful data that’s personalized to the individual, because in this case, not only will the individual be more likely to engage with the insights from the data, but also to share that data.

The data provided by fitness trackers are usually contained within silos. But many people do not know how fitness trackers are using that data to provide them personalized information. What’s important here is context, which means the data itself is meaningful only if it’s personalized for an individual.

Dr. Rhee used an example to explain “context”. His father is 80 years old and has many medical issues. Based on his health condition, the doctor recommends him to not walk too much, 3000 steps a day is enough. However, his Fitbit (a brand of fitness tracker) said it is not enough, because it recommends 10,000 steps. This type of discrepancy can be confusing for Dr. Rhee’s father.

IBM Watson Health’s Duty

IBM Watson Health Cloud Logo
As mentioned above, personalization is very important for fitness tracking. IBM Watson Health is connecting different data sets and applying logic to bring intelligence and insights that are personalized and predictive. Dr. Rhee expressed that IBM Health believes their role is to be a catalyst, to bring partners together to help transform the global fitness and healthcare industry, and to translate big data into key insights. They are bringing data to the IBM Health Cloud and health research kits in hope to make personalized products and services.

Dr. Rhee showed an example of what IBM Watson Health is doing:

His daughter has asthma and needs to bring her inhaler everywhere. IBM Watson Health is looking at ways to make the inhalers intelligent by connecting it to the weather and wearable data, so it can predict and prevent asthma attacks by providing personalized interventions.

He mentioned that currently, each physician would typically only spend one to two hours a year with their patients. However, each physician only has 8760 hours a year, and the physicians have to carefully choose how to spend those hours. But with the help of IBM Watson Health, fitness data can be brought to the physicians and transform the way physicians think about and deliver care.

This fitness data would not only include typical vital signs such as heart rate, respiratory rate, body temperature and blood pressure, but also stats like daily steps taken, average sleep length and quality, social connectedness, and average diet. What’s more, fitness data could be wearable data, social data, environmental data, and even genomic data and clinical data. IBM Watson Health brings all these data together on a secure and protected cloud, allowing an individual to choose how it gets used and shared.

But ultimately, wearing a fitness tracker is not enough to help people become healthier. 80 percent of data is invisible and in unstructured formats. Through the power of Watson, these big data could be translated into personalized insights with a system that continues to understand, learn and improve. They hope more and more people and entrepreneurs can take advantage of Watson to help support and serve people.


Cover image source: Brother via Flickr


Author: Yuanchao Li | Localized by Synced Global Team: Hao Wang

3 comments on “Does Fitness Data Make the Average Person Healthier?

  1. toffeelover

    I think that this wellness is not important unless you lean how to control your weight and musculature. I hate seeing people with good legs but thin arms.

  2. Lord Babington

    Agree, this looks ugly. So what can I say? There is still a chance to buy primobolan and make your body look harmonious. You must do it under good medical examination a and control and observe all the cycles and timing that is prescribed. Read the page carefully, so that you could ask you questions, if any.

  3. Lease Grass

    And? What happened next?

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