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The Body Fat Scale has prompted as much feedback as the future of the Internet! This will be the last story about it though. Perhaps it is holiday gadget gift giving that is behind the interest or perhaps it is a desire that many people have to focus on their physical condition at the beginning of a new year. One reader reports that he has had a body fat scale for some time and found it to be "reasonably accurate, consistent, and reliable". He pointed out that the key with body fat measurements is the trend line, not the absolute number. More importantly, the reader related the measurement of body fat to the much larger issue of measuring other things about our bodies using personal medical technology. Being a member of the technology committee of a hospital board, I immediately related to his comments.

First, to complete the discussion about body fat, the reader correctly adds that the measurements vary day to day.”It is important not to attach too much meaning to any single reading, whether it’s high or low”. Measuring at the same time of day reduces much of the variation due to hydration or big meals. Consistent readings combined with a specific goal can surely produce good results and improved health.

The bigger issue is what happens when most of us have access to a host of measurement and monitoring devices which can give a comprehensive picture of our medical condition. As technology continues to advance it will be possible to unobtrusively measure dietary input and do a chemical analysis of body waste. In addition to exercise levels, we will be able to have monitoring of blood pressure, heart rate, glucose, cholesterol, and other factors. More sophisticated technology will enable video gait analysis and video sleep analysis. The reader cited that Timex now has a “wearable network” of watch, pulse meter and GPS which captures a significant amount of data.

Beyond gathering data, there will be personal medical technology that can actually do something with the data. I expect that hospitals and caregivers will have online access to medical data of consumers from their homes and they will be able to contact us if special actions are needed. In some cases, the technology will actually take actions independently. For example, according to the reader, some forms of diabetes are now measurable and treatable with a “thermostat” type of apparatus which can regulate blood sugar and administer insulin automatically via a pump.

I think the reader summed it up very well. “Will we become more effective at following the mostly tried and true remedies we ‘should’ do when confronted with lots of trend data? Would an elderly or sick person, whose medical care is paid for by the government, be required to be wired for data collection? As corporations shift more responsibility to each of us to manage our health (as they did before when shifting responsibility to us to manage our retirement funds) will millions of people begin to actually try to improve their health using such devices?”

There are surely many technical, social, political, and policy issues surrounding this subject. I expect to be writing more about this over time.