Health apps may do more harm than good according to scientists

Fri, 24 Feb 2017

The usefulness of smartphone health apps and fitness trackers is being attacked, with one health expert criticising the 10,000 steps a day 'target' that features on many apps.

Dr Greg Hager, a professor of computer science at Johns Hopkins University in the US, has claimed that "very few" healthcare apps available are actually based on scientific evidence.

Speaking in Boston at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), he stated: "Without any scientific evidence base, how do you know that any of these apps are good for you? They may even be harmful."

He said: "Some of you might wear Fitbits or something equivalent, and I bet every now and then it gives you that cool little message 'You did 10,000 steps today!'.

"Why is 10,000 steps important? What's big about 10,000? Turns out in 1960 in Japan they figured out that the average Japanese man, when he walked 10,000 steps a day, burned something like 3,000 calories and that is what they thought the average person should consume. So they picked 10,000 steps as a number.

"But is that the right number for any of you in this room? Who knows?"

Last year, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh found that people using fitness trackers failed to lose as much weight as people following traditional weight loss techniques, suggesting that the benefits of fitness trackers are exaggerated.

While there appears to be some debate on the effectiveness of such devices and apps, they can still be a useful way to track your exercise and diet habits for some people, if used in the right way.
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