Human Odometers
Erick Schonfeld

The technology is definitely here — and the race to monetize new data streams is fever pitched — but there’s an equally big risk in the equality of those algorithms. The reality of health and healthcare is far more complex than simple equations around behavioral economics using wearable (or implantable) sensors.

Health Affairs drew a rough calculation on the determinants of health in 2002 and while behavior has a large role (about 40%) genetics and social circumstances combine to play an even larger one (about 45%). The quality of the healthcare system itself is about 10% and environmental factors are thought to account for about 5%.

So — before we start applying basic calculations to biometric information, we had better make sure the equations are at least somewhat balanced by science and other determinants of health.

For example, we still don’t know if insulin resistance is the cause of obesity or if obesity is the cause of insulin resistance.

If obesity is nothing more than a proxy for metabolic illness — what good does it do us to punish those with the proxy? Dr. Peter Attia — TEDMED 2013

Are We Fighting The Wrong Battle In The Obesity War?

Smoking is perhaps the easiest (and single largest) individual behavioral component to health. We’ve made great progress over the last 60 years — but the smoking rate is still about 20%. We’ve banned cigarette advertising from television — but it still appears in magazines — including high profile tech ones like Wired. The tobacco industry spends about $1 million — per hour — advertising their products. Will we continue to expand punishment to people who smoke while continuing to reward the manufacturers of the product? Is that a reasonable equation?

Another behavioral component could well be sugar — specifically in the form of soda. The soda chart alone (like many other U.S. healthcare charts) is eye-popping.

Sugar Linked To $1 Trillion In U.S. Healthcare Spending

More generally, food itself has an enormous economic component.

Food undergoes the equivalent of a leveraged recapitalization designed to suit the financial goals of its creator. Consumption of junk food (for example a Twinkie or a sugary drink) is akin to a financial exchange where short-term gains are privatized and long-term costs are socialized in the form of horrific health outcomes. The metabolic donkeys — consumers — pay relatively little money and turn a blind eye to the health consequences of their food choices — instead hoisting the fantastic profits of companies like Monster and opting for a shortened, diseased life. Simons Chase
The cheapest calories to buy are the most expensive to our health. Dr. Dean Ornish

Yes, the technology has arrived to exact an economic toll (or reward) for healthy (or unhealthy) behavior, but we’re a long way from the science or social equality that’s a more important part of the total equation.

We’re already mining the data — but largely through credit card purchases. Credit card data has equally rich behavioral health components and needs no wearable at all. So just how far away are we from this scene? We’re already there.

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