673: Health Tracking

A Thousand Things to Talk About
673: Health Tracking

Back in episode 206, we talked about measuring health, specifically through self-tracking apps and measurements. To quote partially from that episode:

The numbers those devices measure – number of steps, calories in and out, sleep, movement — are all things that we can choose to use or not. And as Mike Rugnetta pointed out in his PBS Ideas Channel episode about self-tracking, it can – quote – “feel remarkably like yet another way for me to compare my body to the body of others, or to some ideal body.”

And don’t get me wrong – those comparisons can be incredibly useful. The challenge is that comparing health on just one factor – or on just numbers – can be quite reductionist.

On a national or international scale, there’s no one way to track health — even if there was a single definition of that very flexible word. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, a part o the University of Washington in Seattle, uses a total of 41 different measures to track and discuss the health of a population. Those factors include everything from infant death rate to national prevalence of smoking. Some of these measures are disease-based, and some of them are more about how someone lives than what may or may not be quote-unquote wrong with them.

That, however, is on a global scale. On a personal scale, the lines between health and wellness are being regularly blurred, mixed, and matched. There’s many reasons for this, but the financial reality is certainly there. As Fast Company put it, quote:

Wellness, defined broadly as the active pursuit of activities that promote physical and mental well-being, has become a nebulous term that incorporates a wide range of industries. In an effort to better establish its parameters, The Global Wellness Institute (GWI), in a recent report,  focused on 10 specific categories that enable consumers to incorporate it in their lives:

Personal care and beauty:

Healthy eating, nutrition and weight loss:

Wellness tourism:

Fitness / mind-body:

Preventive and personalized medicine and public health:

Traditional and complementary medicine:

Wellness real estate:

Spa economy:

Thermal / mineral springs:

Workplace wellness:

Which – in some ways – makes sense. Wellness, as an ideal that combines quality of life with length of life, makes sense. The Quality-Adjusted-Life-Year scale even attempts to do the same thing by adjusting the value of a year of life based on the quality of that year. But that quality is really depended on what you value. So what do you value?