Addressing health through tech

Addressing health through tech
As technology continues to grow and evolve, it can present a number of solutions to health problems faced by millions living in urban areas. However, do these technological..

As technology continues to grow and evolve, it can present a number of solutions to health problems faced by millions living in urban areas. However, do these technological advances also pose a threat?

Background

As of 2015, a whopping fifty-four percent of the world’s population lived in urban areas. Experts have noted that this trend is only expected to grow in the near future. By 2030, the world population living in urban areas will reportedly increase to 60%. By 2050, it will become 66%. This is a drastic change when compared to the onset of the 20th century, when only one in ten people lived in cities. The United Nations estimates that more than 90% of future urban population growth will be in low- and middle-income countries.

There are a number of significant threats that loom over the urban population – one of them being health problems. According to estimates, in 2013, only one in every 20 people living in the cities did not have health problems. At least a third of the world's population (2·3 billion individuals) have experienced more than five ailments, according to a major new analysis from the Global Burden of Disease Study (GBD) 2013, published in The Lancet.

As the world's population grows, and the proportion of elderly people increases, the number of people living in suboptimum health is set to rise rapidly over coming decades, warn the authors.

In addition, the World Health Organization has noted that 51% of urban women of low socio-economic status in middle-income countries included in the study, were either overweight or obese and 51% of urban households have limited access to safe water.

Analysis

In the recent years, activity trackers have gained popularity among those who want to become fit. There are multiple trackers that are either a device or an application that can monitor and track fitness-related information of the user. Many of these trackers use GPS to track the user’s movements in real time. They track metrics such as distance covered during a walk or a run, and even sleep patterns. They also expect users to input personal information in order to provide accurate information regarding their fitness patterns.

Some of the most popular fitness apps are RunKeeper, Fitbit, Garmin, Polar, TomTom and more. Some of them come as separate devices, some are applications that can be downloaded onto the smart phone.

In recent years, more people living in urban areas have begun using technology to address their health problems and ensure a healthy lifestyle. From smartwatches to fitness tracker apps, people can now track everything from their sleep patterns to the number of steps they take within a day. There are even devices that adjust noise pollution and purify polluted air to keep users as healthy as possible. There are also tools available that can analyze a person’s skin and decipher whether or not they have been damaged by UV rays.

Gina Lee, founder of the Legacy Sports Institute has spoken about the confluence of technology and fitness and stated, “The future of technology is definitely to develop the most invisible, smallest, least detectable technology for consumers that can track the most biometric data and be consumer-friendly and have accurate outcomes.”

"Think of textiles taking on the electronics by picking up data points from athletes, rather than having rigid wearable technology solutions on a wrist or on the chest," said Mounir Zok, director of technology and innovation for the US Olympic Committee. This will prevent people from getting injured while adopting a more active lifestyle.

There are many new fitness devices in the market that can provide real-time feedback and guidance to users during a workout. However, there are concerns being expressed as well. As trackers grow in popularity, some note that they pose a threat to the privacy of the individual users. The Norwegian Consumer Council conducted an analysis of four wearables in the recent years (Fitbit, Garmin, Jawbone and Mio) and found critical loopholes in the terms and conditions that these manufacturers have put forth.

Assessment

Our assessment is that technological advances now provide solutions to unique problems faced by urban dwellers. There are now devices that can address everything from noise pollution to air pollution and the effect these elements have on people living in the cities. However, technology also poses an inherent threat. Most of these devices record private details of individual users that could later be manipulated if data systems are breached.

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