Can A Smart Bathroom Scale Make You Any Healthier?
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Can A Smart Bathroom Scale Make You Any Healthier?

Some argue that app connectivity makes a pound counter more helpful, but others say it merely gussies up an outmoded barometer of health.

By JANINE ANNETT
Tue, Jun 14, 2022 2:01pmGrey Clock 4 min

USING A BATHROOM SCALE once meant nervously watching a literal needle wiggle around until it settled on a number, whether dismaying or encouraging. In 2022, such scales have gone the way of the slide projector and Rolodex, replaced by newer digital versions that employ more-advanced technology. But in an era when nearly every device is smart whether we like it or not, even these might be headed for obsolescence.

Some doctors and personal trainers argue that it’s high time we all embraced smart bathroom scales that do much more than display your weight. Step on one and it sends a mild electrical current through your body to gather data. Because fat and water resist electricity differently, the scale can use a process called Bioelectric Impedance Analysis to measure how much of each your body has. It then sends this data to an app on your phone, uses software to estimate other metrics and keeps track of how each changes in your body over time.

It’s a pretty neat trick, but not all healthcare professionals are convinced this data is a useful way to measure one’s overall health. (And some experts would rather you ditch all bathroom scales entirely.) So is a smart scale a smart move? Here, we present both sides of the issue.

Yes, a smart scale can help you keep tabs on important health statistics.

If you want to lose or gain weight, maintain your current weight, add muscle or decrease body fat, proponents say a smart scale can help you measure and analyze your progress toward these goals much better than scales that can’t track data.

Their argument is simple: You can’t change what you do not understand. “Self-monitoring is a key strategy for making any behavior change or setting a personal goal,” said Dr. Robert F. Kushner, a weight management expert and professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. And while both smart and unconnected scales let you measure weight, only a smart scale automatically helps you track how that weight fluctuates, revealing how your body responds to any lifestyle changes you are making. Theoretically, you could track this yourself with pen and paper. But who has the time?

Jake Sarnowski, a 40-year-old product manager, was already struggling to balance an exercise routine with the demands of family life. Then, with his wife and two children, he moved to Woodbury, Minn., a place distinguished, as he put it, by “a lot of deep-fried cheese curds.” He hadn’t owned a scale for years, but when he spotted a smart scale from Wyze on sale last October, he bought it. He said he values the way it lets him keep tabs on his weight. “It’s my product-manager instinct kicking in. Whatever is measured is improved,” he said.

You can usually get the extra features of a smart scale without paying extra—many cost about the same (or even less) than “dumb” digital alternatives. The Wyze Scale X, a new release from the company that also makes smart home security devices, can measure 13 body composition metrics. You can find other models, like the Etekcity ESF24 Smart Fitness Scale that measures the same metrics, or more opulent options, like the In body H20N, which includes a handlebar that allows it to more accurately measure data from the top half of your body, instead of relying on estimates. Fans say any of these could help you meet your fitness goals, provided you don’t mind immediately checking your phone after stepping on the scale.

No, a smart scale encourages you to fixate on the wrong kind of health data.

Not everyone feels people need the extra information a smart scale provides. Maryelizabeth Carter, owner of Underground Trainers, a boutique personal fitness service in Rutherford, N.J., said most folks just don’t need real-time access to information as granular as their bone mass and their metabolic age. These measures can be hard to understand, especially without active guidance from a medical professional. And Ms. Carter said getting too caught up in the numbers can actually lead to unhealthy behaviours. “You can lose track of your overall objectives. Being in good physical shape is dependent on healthy eating and living, not just the information provided by a scale,” she said. An old-fashioned scale, by comparison, only provides data that you might actually know how to use.

Some experts go further and question whether weighing yourself at all is a good idea. Hannah Coakley, a registered dietitian and nutrition therapist in Brooklyn who specializes in eating disorder treatment and recovery, said scales—smart or not—can do more harm than good. “Study after study shows that when we take a weight-first approach to health, it simply doesn’t work,” said Mx. Coakley, who uses the gender-neutral honorific. “Leading with weight can be ultimately damaging or stigmatizing. There are other ways to look at health.” If you want to spend money on something that will improve your health, they recommend a subscription to a meditation app or a gym membership (“not to burn calories but to move your body”). And for an option that won’t cost anything, “get outside and do what makes you feel good.”

Anna Millhiser, a 36-year-old vice president of client success and hospital partnerships who lives in Baltimore, wasn’t too worried about how tracking weight could impact her health when she bought a Garmin smart scale about five years ago. But once its batteries ran out, she felt no need to replace them. “I realized weighing myself wasn’t high on my priority list, so I just stopped and life went on,” she said. “It’s been dead for probably two years.”

 

Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: June 13, 2022



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Should AI Have Access to Your Medical Records? What if It Can Save Many Lives?

We asked readers: Is it worth giving up some potential privacy if the public benefit could be great? Here’s what they said.

By DEMETRIA GALLEGOS
Tue, May 28, 2024 4 min

We’re constantly told that one of the potentially biggest benefits of artificial intelligence is in the area of health. By collecting large amounts of data, AI can create all sorts of drugs for diseases that have been resistant to treatment.

But the price of that could be that we have to share more of our medical information. After all, researchers can’t collect large amounts of data if people aren’t willing to part with that data.

We wanted to see where our readers stand on the balance of privacy versus public-health gains as part of our series on ethical dilemmas created by the advent of AI.

Here are the questions we posed…

AI may be able to discover new medical treatments if it can scan large volumes of health records. Should our personal health records be made available for this purpose, if it has the potential to improve or save millions of lives? How would we guard privacy in that case?

…and some of the answers we received. undefined

Rely on nonpartisan overseers

While my own recent experience with a data breach highlights the importance of robust data security, I recognise the potential for AI to revolutionise healthcare. To ensure privacy, I would be more comfortable if an independent, nonpartisan body—overseen by medical professionals, data-security experts, and citizen representatives—managed a secure database.

Anonymity cuts both ways

Yes. Simply sanitise the health records of any identifying information, which is quite doable. Although there is an argument to be made that AI may discover something that an individual needs or wants to know.

Executive-level oversight

I think we can make AI scanning of health records available with strict privacy controls. Create an AI-CEO position at medical facilities with extreme vetting of that individual before hiring them.

Well worth it

This actually sounds like a very GOOD use of AI. There are several methods for anonymising data which would allow for studies over massive cross-sections of the population without compromising individuals’ privacy. The AI would just be doing the same things meta-studies do now, only faster and maybe better.

Human touch

My concern is that the next generations of doctors will rely more heavily, maybe exclusively, on AI and lose the ability or even the desire to respect the art of medicine which demands one-on-one interaction with a patient for discussion and examination (already a dying skill).

Postmortem

People should be able to sign over rights to their complete “anonymised” health record upon death just as they can sign over rights to their organs. Waiting for death for such access does temporarily slow down the pace of such research, but ultimately will make the research better. Data sets will be more complete, too. Before signing over such rights, however, a person would have to be fully informed on how their relatives’ privacy may also be affected.

Pay me or make it free for all

As long as this is open-source and free, they can use my records. I have a problem with people using my data to make a profit without compensation.

Privacy above all

As a free society, we value freedoms and privacy, often over greater utilitarian benefits that could come. AI does not get any greater right to infringe on that liberty than anything else does.

Opt-in only

You should be able to opt in and choose a plan that protects your privacy.

Privacy doesn’t exist anyway

If it is decided to extend human lives indefinitely, then by all means, scan all health records. As for privacy, there is no such thing. All databases, once established, will eventually, if not immediately, be accessed or hacked by both the good and bad guys.

The data’s already out there

I think it should be made available. We already sign our rights for information over to large insurance companies. Making health records in the aggregate available for helping AI spot potential ways to improve medical care makes sense to me.

Overarching benefit

Of course they should be made available. Privacy is no serious concern when the benefits are so huge for so many.

Compensation for breakthroughs

We should be given the choice to release our records and compensated if our particular genome creates a pathway to treatment and medications.

Too risky

I like the idea of improving healthcare by accessing health records. However, as great as that potential is, the risks outweigh it. Access to the information would not be controlled. Too many would see personal opportunity in it for personal gain.

Nothing personal

The personal info should never be available to anyone who is not specifically authorised by the patient to have it. Medical information can be used to deny people employment or licenses!

No guarantee, but go ahead

This should be allowed on an anonymous basis, without question. But how to provide that anonymity?

Anonymously isolating the information is probably easy, but that information probably contains enough information to identify you if someone had access to the data and was strongly motivated. So the answer lies in restricting access to the raw data to trusted individuals.

Take my records, please

As a person with multiple medical conditions taking 28 medications a day, I highly endorse the use of my records. It is an area where I have found AI particularly valuable. With no medical educational background, I find it very helpful when AI describes in layman’s terms both my conditions and medications. In one instance, while interpreting a CT scan, AI noted a growth on my kidney that looked suspiciously like cancer and had not been disclosed to me by any of the four doctors examining the chart.

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