Medical doctor, specialized in Health Services Management from Griffith University Australia. I am also alumina of John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Most of us have been down the road where we have struggled to lose weight and keep it off. With the media portraying an image of a perfect body is, many of us try to keep at par with that flawlessness.
With ravishingly well-maintained divas and their smart male counterpart actors always insight on media, the common woman and man dream and desire to achieve the same level of body beautification at whatsoever be the cost.
Diet pills, plans and coaches boasting to peel off many kgs off our bodies in a matter of months; Facebook groups showing miraculously trimmed down people; Atkins, keto, Mediterranean diets, extreme calorie restriction diets are some of the few latest fad diets promising instant results.
Some people even opt for extreme measures bariatric surgeries, gastric balloons, liposuction or fat freezing to attain their dream bodies.
The bottom line remains that these current intervention approaches have significant shortcomings, playing more havoc than proving beneficial for our bodies. All these interventions are only shown to be effective when paired with lifestyle modifications.
Obesity is a global concern, the fifth leading cause of death, killing more than 2.8 million people each year (World Health Organization). The British Psychological Society (BPS) states that obesity is not “a choice” and psychological experiences play a significant role especially for people living with life challenges, traumas and those who are less incentivized to be more active.
Understanding food science is the key to realizing people and their food choices, as all foods are not created equal. Most meals are palatable or tasty to eat, such as an apple but certain foods such as pizza, cookies, chips or ice-creams are irresistible. According to scientists, a synergy between key ingredients; sugar, salt, fat or carbohydrates creates an artificially enhanced palatability experience activating brain reward neurocircuits similar to drugs like cocaine or opioids. Researches call this hyper palatability; eaters call it delicious. No wonder the obesity crisis has reached epidemic proportions.
A deeper understanding of how weight management and behaviour changes for obesity prevention are informed by psychology so that an environment is created in which people find it easier not to become overweight or obese in the first place. Today technology serves the purpose.
Recent emerging technological advances are now offering the promise to address challenges of losing weight and keeping it off. With more people than ever before now connected to the internet via their smartphones, advanced behavioural self-monitoring apps have resulted in the development of an assortment of eHealth weight management programs to achieve optimal health.
Thousands of health apps are available nowadays by mitigating barriers for healthier lifestyles via promoting weight management by automated prompts, reminders, information provision, self-monitoring, tracking and integration into social networking websites. These mobile apps for weight loss also include behavioural tracking and goal setting features.
Another breakthrough is the use of biosensors to detect and measure a substance of interest to provide an accurate picture of a person’s health status.
Dietary apps used for monitoring and recording daily intakes of food and fluids, and calculating the requirements based on the physical statistics such as age height weight would become more efficient and effective when used with non-invasive biosensors. Many studies already show that clinical outcomes have improved where technologies have been implemented. Many overweight people have reduced the intake of sweet foods and drinks when using these apps by getting immediate feedback on the foods they are choosing. Some such apps are My Fitness Pal, Easy Diet Dairy, Kidney Diet, Sodium Manager, Carb Manager etc.
Other latest technologies introduced to the battle of the bulge are wearable devices that monitor fitness and personal health levels. The most recent of those is Apple Watch.
Many fitness-conscious individuals are widely using another wearable, Fitbit which tracks activity level, quality of sleep and other health data.
Technology holds the solution to our problems, but perhaps the ultimate answer lies in some combination of technology and human touch
Apps linked up with biosensors would be extremely beneficial in remote settings where access to a healthcare facility is limited for early detection of disease and self-assessment. With the epidemic of obesity spreading vivaciously, especially in the younger generations, the increased use of smartphones can be used efficiently to develop interventions to combat obesity.
Mobile app-based interventions are being used in Ireland, where more than 100,000 children are clinically obese. When used along with biosensors, they can not only be used to record but also monitor the health status of an individual. These can be shared electronically with medical professionals and centres.
To track the calorie intake-expenditure balance necessary for weight loss, exercise and food/drink consumption must be accurately measured. However, traditional methods of monitoring these factors are taxing and unreliable, resulting in poor adherence and accuracy. Accelerometers (e.g., in a band, watch or phone) now automatically capture movement and upload data to a tracking application. Automatic tracking of eating may soon be possible through bite, photographic or chemical analysis. For now, web and smartphone apps allow relatively simple tracking using extensive food databases and barcode scanners that are linked to nutritional data.
Researchers and clinicians have capitalized on the use of technologies, such as the internet and mobile devices (e.g., PDAs, smartphones, cellular phones), to deliver weight management interventions. Such platforms are attractive because they help overcome resource and access barriers encountered when delivering traditional face-to-face individual or group interventions. Consequently, these platforms may enhance our ability to produce a significant and healthy change in larger segments of the obese population.
This can serve as a practical and cost-effective intervention which has always been a bottleneck in health, capable of reaching millions and serve as a life-saving device by monitoring obesity and its related risk factors. Such apps can then calculate and make a comprehensive specialized chart catering to the individual’s requirements comprising of the daily caloric count, type of foods to be consumed and level of physical activity needed.
An amalgam of increasing life expectancies, sedentary lifestyles and chronic debilitating diseases, technology can play a significant role to mitigate these challenges.
The smartphone acts as a gateway to developing solutions to many of our health-related problems and pressures. Wearable biosensors can demonstrate most up to date and valid data at every single point in time giving a clear picture of a person’s health status and establish a relationship between patients and provider’s continuum of care.
Many companies like Zephyr and AliveCor have already developed biosensors to monitor vitals and assess when medical intervention is needed. Taking it further, these biosensors can provide testing, imaging and diagnosis, all by the help of a simple biosensor operated mobile app even in resource-poor settings.
The biggest challenge to biosensors remains regulations, compliance and standards of biosensor technologies in providing sensitive, specific and quality data to ensure optimal patient safety and security.
Technology holds the solution to our problems, but perhaps the ultimate answer lies in some combination of technology and human touch, in other words, what some call touch plus tech.
The writer is Health Services Management from Griffith University Australia, alumina of John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health