7 in 10 americans track health

7 in 10 americans track health

The first national US survey to measure health data tracking finds 70% of American adults track at least one health indicator either for themselves or a loved one, although half of "trackers" report they do it "in their heads".

The Pew Research Center study, which was released online on Monday, carried out telephone interviews with over 3,000 adults living in the US.

The survey finds that 6 in 10 American adults say they track their weight, diet or exercise routine, one third track a health symptom or indicator like blood sugar, headaches, blood pressure or sleep pattern, and just over 1 in 10 says they do the tracking for a loved one.

However, when the questions about health tracking drilled down into the detail, they reveal that nearly half of those tracking health data keep track of progress "in their heads", while just over a third track the data on paper, and one in five uses a spreadsheet, website, app or device.

Helping to Make Changes

Clinical studies suggest that self-monitoring of health data helps people make changes in their lives, especially those trying to manage weight, blood pressure and blood sugar.

But before this study, which is part of the Pew Internet and American Life Project, nobody had done a national survey asking the question: "How many people are tracking their health on a regular basis?"

The answers show that 46% of trackers say self-monitoring has maDe them change their approach to managing their health or the health of a person they provide care for.

40% say self-tracking has led them to ask their doctor for more information or get another opinion from another doctor, and 34% say it has influenced decisions about treatment.

Groups Most Likely to Self-Track

Of those who track their own health, those most likely to do so are caregivers and people living with chronic conditions.

Another group more likely to track their health is those who have had a significant change in their health in the past year.

The survey results show that while people in this group are no more likely than others to track their weight, diet or exercise routine, they are more likely to track a health indicator or symptom like blood pressure, blood sugar, headaches, or sleep patterns.

Self-Tracking Methods

When asked about how they track the health indicator they most pay attention to, either for themselves or another, half (49%) of trackers the survey interviewed say they do so "in their head".

The results show men are more likely to keep track in their head than women, as are younger than older adults.

The researchers note that "this makes sense, since all someone might need to track their weight is a scale - or even a pair of jeans that only fit if someone is at their ideal weight".

However, they note, this finding is:

"... a challenge to technology developers who would like to convince people to upgrade their habits."

"In order to capture this segment of the market they must strive to create a tool that is as seamless as keeping track in your head," they add.

The people with more serious concerns were the ones most likely to use a system of some kind to keep track of their health.

"... many trackers living with multiple conditions are more likely to be methodical about collecting their own health data," note the researchers. However, the take up rate of technological devices in this group is quite low.

Self-tracking tools is an emerging market, with wearable devices of varying levels of sophistication helping users track everyday activity.

Take Up of Health Apps Is Flat

The survey shows that 19% of smartphone users have downloaded a health-related app, with exercise, weight and diet being the most popular topics. However, the apps were not necessarily being used to self-track a specific health indicator.

In an interview about the survey, lead researcher Susannah Fox says the take up of health apps appears to have reached a plateau in the US, with only around 1 in 10 cellphone users actually using an app for health-tracking.

This is in spite of the fact there are hundreds of new apps coming on the market, aimed at helping users keep track of and manage weight, blood pressure, blood sugar, pregnancy, and medication.

While Fox says they did not investigate why the use of these apps appears to have flattened out, in the interview she suggests it could be because of issues around security of what is highly personal data:

"They might not be sure an app is really the place to put that kind of trust," says Fox.

The California HealthCare Foundation helped finance the study.

Another study published earlier this month from the same Pew Research Center project found that 1 in 3 Americans uses the internet to help with diagnoses.

Susannah Fox - Medicine X Conversation from Larry Chu on Vimeo.

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