It’s January and the #1 most popular post-New Year’s resolution is to lose weight, get fit, and live well. The signs of this are manifested in ads featuring Janet Jackson promoting Nutrisystem, Jennifer Hudson dueting with her then-and-now selves pitching Weight Watchers, as well as the new Weight Watchers for Men promotion starring Charles Barkley.
But there are new signs that losing weight and getting fit are going beyond “diets” and food plans: research shows that moving around and getting exercise can help people sustain hard-earned weight loss more than just changing food intake and “dieting.” So the Apple store and Best Buy now allocate shelf space to connected health devices that help people self-track daily life micro-choices. And Silicon Valley venture funds are moving money into this category of medical technology: each quarter of 2011 had as many or more connected fitness-related investments than all of the quarters in 2010 combined.
The question remains: can mobile apps and self-tracking technology help move the needle on obesity? MobiHealthNews report, mObesity – How mobile tools could help prevent obesity through weight management apps and connected fitness devices, deals with this question.
The report predicts a “shakeout” over the next couple of years, some market consolidation, among the start-ups and incumbents who address this space. As larger companies get more comfortable with this market segment as it moves from early adopter to mainstream tipping point, they’ll acquire the smaller innovative companies to round out their offerings for ”regular” people who shop at Big Box and discount retailers on a regular basis, beyond the Quantified Self crowd.
Obesity is epidemic in the U.S., among adults and, increasingly, kids. And while most doctors recommend brand-named weight loss programs — 79% Weight Watchers, and 44% a program affiliated with the American Diabetic Association — more may soon be recommending connected devices and apps soon as patients who have successfully incorporated these programs into their life-flows demonstrate positive and sustained outcomes. For now, large-scale evidence is scant, while the number of individual patient anecdotes is growing.
The mObesity report discusses some of the research that has been conducted into the effectiveness of smartphone apps and connected devices to address weight loss. BodyMedia (a client of THINK-Health) has published two clinical studies, both of which demonstrated positive outcomes of regularly using the BodyMedia FIT Armband (a wearable fitness monitor), bolstering weight loss results for users.
Another popular tracking program is RunKeeper which, despite its name, is fairly well adopted by what CEO Jason Jacobs calls “the weight loss crowd.” On average, Jacobs said, a typical user is looking to lose 40 pounds, and RunKeeper has been shown to be effective for them. WeightWatchers members have begun to use the app, as well, a mainstream demographic which will grow the evidence base over the next couple of years.
2012 will see the continued proliferation of connected health devices, such as Adidas MiCoach, Basis Band, BodyMedia, Digifit, DirectLife, FitBit, Green Goose, Jawbone UP, the Gruve by Muve, Nike+, NewYu, and Valencell. Clearly, not all of these will survive the popular market cut in 24-36 months, creating the opportunity for larger companies in the personal health/wellness ecosystem to bring them into their (more profitable) fold and product lines.
That’s because it’s not about the technology. As Robert Fabricant of frog design told MobiHealthNews, a technology-first approach won’t work. User-centric design is key, particularly for the intractable, multi-factorial challenge of weight loss, food choices, and exercise sustainability. For some, like Brian Krejcarek of Green Goose, it is about making fun and engaging products that attract use over time, then to find ways to “sneak in the health stuff” later.
Health Populi’s Hot Points: If these devices and tools can engage people with delight and results (sooner, not later), they will gain traction and help people in meeting their personal goals over time. But they must have that user in mind in the design phase. Technology-first isn’t the basis for a successful business plan.
Brian Dolan, publisher of MobiHealthNews, shared with me his surprise that the connected device vendors covered in the report have positioned themselves as mainstream and see their larger role of impacting public health.
For the mainstream to adopt these devices, and use them over time as I use my devices (see more on that in Health Populi of 1/2/2012), they have to be engaging, fun and satisfying to use. On that score, I think Brian Krejcarek of Green Goose has the right pitch – which you can see on the company’s landing page – shown in the picture. The tagline, “Live more playfully. Green Goose makes everyday life more fun” is pitch-perfect for people like me. Other scenarios on that landing page feature a dog to be walked, and a “get off your bum” command, with the subtext: “forget calories, graphs and charts.”
For my own life-flow and values, I like the “fun” and the data and graphs. Other people like walking the dog.
And for me, too, the fun is in the music I choose for my walking playlist, which this month includes a mix of disco (Dan Hartman and KC & the Sunshine Band), James Brown (Get Up Offa That Thing), and my long-time fave, Marvin Gaye. More on that for a future blog post…so, literally, stay tuned…