Healthy Voice: Electronics and health, the good and the bad

man using GetFit app

Sanaa Naeem | Washtenaw Voice


By M. M. Donaldson


As we become more and more dependent on electronic devices, researchers study the ill effects of being plugged in and marketers promote their products with the promise of making us healthier. Is it possible for our tablets, smartphones, laptops and videogame consoles to be both? Here is a look at the pros and cons of using various types of electronics:


Wearable fitness trackers: “What you don’t know can hurt you” is an unhealthy phrase when it comes to calorie consumption. The Food and Drug Administration recommends the average person eat 2000 calories a day – and Americans do eat that along with another 700 calories per USDA analysis. With 62 percent of U.S. adults considered overweight, some of the blame is on the increased trend of eating out.

Another culprit may be the miscalculation of calories consumed. While some people estimate calories eaten, they are off by anywhere from 175 to 600 calories for one fast food meal according to studies in The BMJ journal and the American Journal of Public Health.

Consumed calories can be more dangerous for the 24 percent of people who rarely or never think about the calories they eat according to a 2014 survey by the International Food Information Council Foundation.

While there is minimal scientific research on the effectiveness of wearable fitness trackers, smart watches and wearable activity trackers, there is maximum research on the retail dollars spent on them.

For the first eight months of 2015, activity trackers supplied the economy with $754.8 million according to the market research company NDP Group.  A lot of Christmas stockings are likely to be stuffed with wearable fitness trackers as fourth quarter earnings are estimated to reach $188.7 million.

While wearable fitness technology will not make anyone skinnier by just wearing, they are useful to motivate and monitor calories taken in and calories burned.


Online fitness groups: Critics of the Internet claim people are experiencing social anxiety and do not know how to communicate face-to-face. The “Social Isolation and New Technology” 2009 report from the Pew Research Center found 38 percent of Internet users don’t confide with their spouses or partners for important decisions. Across the board, Internet users are 59 percent less likely than non-Internet users to confide with spouses or partners.

With many online fitness groups, members can also belong to sponsored virtual groups to share information and encouragement. Others in the group can help with being accountable and motivated since everyone in the group shares common goals. Some sites offer access to personal trainers which give another level of interaction. There are usually fees associated, but several are very low cost to use.

The American Heart Association promotes exercising with a fitness peer support group.


Exercise and food apps: Couch potato is not a vegetable serving and web surfing is not a physical activity. Americans spend approximately 100 minutes per day online for leisure activities according to a 2011 report by the National Bureau of Economic Research.  This pass time is not crowding out other leisure time as much as it is whittling away at the amount of time spent sleeping, hanging out with the family and being physically active according to the American Time Use Survey from 2003-2011.

The activity and food tracker MyFitnessPal was the trailblazer app to monitor exercise and food levels. Although there is an ever-growing choice for fitness apps and the reviews for the best are keeping stride, ratings should be used as a guide. The best bet is to try a few and select one that is easy to use and provides lots of motivation.


Video games: Urban myths of eyes drying out from a Tetris marathon or belly aches from so many games of Candy Crush are not far-fetched. Video games once relegated to the mall video arcade can now be found on nearly any electronic. Out of the 24 hours in a day, kids spend more than seven and a half hours using different forms of electronic media according to the 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation Survey. With minimal physical effort, hours of games can be played with just the tap of the thumb.

Video gaming can be a way to increase physical activity as shown in a study published in “JAMA Pediatrics” in 2014. The researchers found the children who received an Xbox 360 with active video games lost 100 percent more weight than the children who only participated in the 16-week physical activity program.

Other game consoles include the Nintendo Wii and the Sony PlayStation which have a variety of dance, fitness and sports games that are motion controlled.


Self-diagnosis: Finding a recipe for chocolate cake, instructions on changing the oil on a car and yes, how to diagnose indigestion from a heart attack can be found online. With all of that information, it is well known that there is good information and bad information.

Numerous websites are using symptom checkers, a newer software that allows people to input symptoms they are experiencing and receive a list of possible diagnoses.

As with most new technology, there are imperfections to be worked out. Only 34 percent of diagnosis given were correct for a variety of symptoms in a 2015 survey done by the Harvard Medical School.

The trend of self-diagnosis using the internet will not go away, as 72 percent of internet users searched for health information according to Pew Research Center.

The internet can help patients ask better questions about their health by using it to educate one’s self about medical terms or diagnosis. Too often during medical visits, patients are stressed and the amount of information being discussed can be overwhelming. A little internet research can possibly explain a procedure or decipher medical lingo.

The Harvard researchers anticipate that software tools will become more accurate and useful in triaging between emergencies and calling the doctor in the morning.


M. M. Donaldson is a contributor with The Voice and a journalism student at WCC. She has a bachelor of science in family and community services from Michigan State University, and has several years’ experience with nutrition issues affecting infants through older adults. Follow M.M. Donaldson on Facebook.





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