There’s money in your Fitbit and fitness tracker

Charge Lifestyle Fitbit

Your wearable fitness tracker is great at counting the number of steps you took today, but it could also provide a new source of currency for the emerging health data economy, according to a new study in the journal Computer.

The wearable device industry is estimated to grow to more than $30 billion by 2020.

These sensors, often worn as bracelets or clips, count the number of steps we take each day; the number of hours we sleep; and monitor our blood pressure, heart rate, pulse and blood sugar levels.

The list of biophysical functions these devices can measure is growing rapidly.

But nobody has yet figured out a way to translate the information gathered by these devices into measures of health and longevity, let alone monetize this information – until now.

The researchers report that for the first time, the trillions of data points collected by wearable sensors can now be translated into empirically verified measures of health risks and longevity.

These measures have significant financial value to third parties like mortgage lenders, life insurance companies, marketers and researchers.

In the study, researchers use the number of steps taken daily – a measure collected by almost all wearable sensors – and show how, using scientifically verified formulas, the step data can be translated into measures of health risk.

By combining step count with age, sex, height, weight, walking speed, stride length, steps per mile and calories burned per step, they can derive the reduction in risk of death and expected gain in life expectancy and healthy-life expectancy if that same level of physical activity – in this case walking – is continued.

In the new health-data economy, your health information, once processed into longevity and health risk, will have a market.

The same value-added information would also be of interest to researchers.

If users were paid to upload their fitness data to a database, along with demographic information in their profiles, public health researchers would be able to custom-build health research surveys to answer all sorts of questions.

The data would be especially of value to scientists studying distinct subpopulations with unique health risks.

For example, researchers could look at how exercise mitigates cardiovascular disease among older Hispanic men, who are at higher risk for heart disease.

According to the researchers, selfies could provide additional information on the health and wellness of the user.

A selfie provides a host of health and behavior information like body mass index, smoking status, level of sun exposure, stress and depression, to name a few.

The researchers even combined fitness and health data with personal financial information like savings rate, readiness for retirement, income, as well as education, age, gender, and family history to develop a single score for overall health and financial risk.

They call it the Better Life and Income Scoring System, or BLISS score.

Insurance companies, mortgage brokers and marketers would be particularly interested in a person’s BLISS score because it combines both health and wealth metrics. And people would be informed on what they need to do to raise their BLISS score.

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News source: University of Illinois at Chicago.
Figure legend: This image is credited to Fitbit.