[This is a preview of some of the exciting mHealth research being presented at the upcoming Medicine 2.0 Congress in September. This abstract and others are candidates for the iMedicalApps-Medicine 2.0 mHealth Research Award]

By Ted Vickey
iMedicalApps-Medicine 2.0 Award Finalist

The data is staggering. We are as a society not only overweight, but even obese. In fact, the World Health Organization recently coined a new term called “Globesity” to track this growing world-wide health epidemic. Some experts suggest that technology is the cause of the problem.

Rather than surfing in the ocean, we are surfing the web. Rather than an outdoor game of tennis under the sun, we are inside our homes playing online virtual tennis on our Wii. People drive their cars to the gym and then take the escalator to the front door rather than walking and taking the stairs.

But what if technology could be the solution to our problem? What if our mobile phones could track our every step, provide healthy tips during the day, even persuade or motivate us when we need it most? This dream is now a reality all across the globe and it is called Mobile Health (or mHealth for short).

As part of my PhD research – in Galway, Ireland – we have collected over 8 million tweets about mobile fitness apps from around the world. This real-time collection of data has allowed us to show fitness trends, short and long term physical activity usage patterns, and classify a person’s fitness level based on their workout sharing habits. These numbers differ from the currently used self-reporting measurements used by the federal government to report on fitness habits.

The goal of my research is to see how technology can be linked with fitness. I seek to understand how it works, why it works, and what is needed to be even more successful in helping every day folks like you and me live healthier, more productive, and longer lives.

Still a non-believer in the power of your mobile phone? Think of these interesting facts.

  • 90% of us have mobile phones within a 3 foot reach 24/7
  • 7 billion people on the earth, 5.1 billion mobile phones (but only 4.2 billion own a toothbrush)
  • It takes 90 minutes for the average person to respond to an email, only 90 seconds to respond to a text message
  • 4 out of 5 teens have a mobile phone (57% claim it is the centre of their social universe)

Recent reports predict that by July of 2012, there will be over 13,000 health related apps in the iTunes store alone, everything from monitoring your blood pressure to tweeting your body weight to tracking your sleep cycles. These self-monitoring units will help change the face of health care around the globe.

The most persuasive of these apps tend to be ones that are affordable, holistic, approachable, automatic and sharable.

When looking at five mobile fitness apps (Nike+, Endomondo, RunKeeper, MyFitnessPal, and DailyMile) during 28 weeks between April and October of 2011, preliminary results suggest:

  1. Mobile Fitness Apps are used around the world and continue to see an upward trend in overall usage (41% increase)
  2. When sharing Workout Tweets, over 25 different languages are represented with English being the most popular (69%), followed by Japanese, Spanish and Indonesian
  3. Of all English Tweets from the five mobile fitness apps referenced, 73% are classified as Activity, 21% as Conversation and 5% as Spam
  4. The sharing of one’s workout provides “virtual accountability” between app users who share workouts via Twitter.

Alone or in combination, these devices are effective because of the accountability they provide. Understanding one’s social network may be one key to better health, as technology continues to impact humanity.

For additional information on this research, please visit www.socialfitphd.com or www.twitter.com/socialfitphd.

Ted Vickey is a PhD researcher at the Digital Enterprise Research Institute (DERI) at NUI Galway. He was the Executive Director of the fitness center at the White House for 11 years under the Bush, Clinton and Bush Administrations. He is also a member of the Board of Directors for the American Council on Exercise (ACE), the largest nonprofit certification organization for fitness trainers in the world impacting over 50 million lives annually.