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May 6, 2014 at 1:09 PMComments: 0 Faves: 0

Fitbits and Biometric Devices - This Doctor's Take on the Hot, New Weight Loss Tools

By Jeffrey VanWingen M.D. More Blogs by This Author

This spring I'm helping out with my son's junior soccer team. We've spent the last weeks drilling the fundamentals. At this weekend's game, the kids dribbled, kicked and passed in marvelous fashion. They had trouble, though, making the leap to the bigger goal - putting the ball in the net and winning the game.

I walked away from this game reminded of a trend I am seeing lately as a doctor. The tech world and medical world have merged recently, bringing hoards of biometric data into our lives. Fitbits, Activelinks and other tiny devises give us numbers we can download trend and spreadsheet. I've had many patients find success using this data to improve their health, but some patients are left bewildered, failing to make that leap like my boy's soccer team. So what's a realistic expectation for these devices? Can they help you with your health goals?


Simply, biometrics are data collected on our body's functions such as pulse, calories, blood pressure, temperature or distances covered. Developments and marketing of compact, user-friendly devices to collect personal biometrics is presently the fastest growing segment of the tech app industry. These devices are often coin-sized and attached to clothing or a bracelet.  Users can download data on their computer to monitor how many steps they took during the day, how many calories they burned and other data.

What Does it All Mean?

Patients often present pages of data to me confused and struggling to make sense of it all, so we look at it together from both the small picture and the big picture perspective. When collecting large amounts of data, there will be outliers. Blood pressure and pulse, for instance, are dynamic biometrics and prone to a wide range. High readings of blood pressure should not cause distress unless these high readings become a trend. Likewise, there are going to be days when we don't burn as many calories or take as many steps as our set goals. This should not provoke guilt, but a resolve to step it up in the coming days.

Lately insurance companies have given better rates to obese patients who agree to wear a device and work toward target numbers of steps each day, but this tends to produce a "big brother is watching" fear and I encourage patients to set goals for themselves toward the bigger picture of improved health, not better numbers for the insurance company. 

Can Biometrics Help Me?

While these small picture biometrics shouldn't be fretted over however, trends in biometrics can lead toward big picture outcomes. Normal blood pressure trends lead to a reduced risk for heard disease and stroke. Consistent caloric deficits between activity and food consumption leads to weight loss toward an ideal body weight. A normal weight, in turn, also reduces cardiovascular risk. And a reduced cardiovascular risk improves the potential outcome for a healthier, longer, more energized life.

Biometrics can be a wonderfully positive tool. When used properly, they are knowledge, converted to power which pushes us to a better life. If you are using a biometric device, be mindful of the end goals the device is helping you achieve: weight loss, improved health, better life, rather than worrying about individual readings. Be patient -   these outcomes may take some persistence, but your continued efforts will be rewarded!

Have you found success or pitfalls with a biometric device? 

Do you have any advice or reviews? 

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