Wearable fitness tracker

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,” says S. Jay Olshansky, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health and chief scientist at Lapetus Solutions, who is lead author on the paper. 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 — measures that have significant financial value to third parties like mortgage lenders, life insurance companies, marketers and researchers.

In the study, Olshansky and colleagues 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 effect, we can take the data collected by your Fitbit and translate that into scientifically verified measures of health risk,” Olshansky said. “For example, we know that a 65-year-old, 5-foot-6-inch male weighing 175 pounds will reduce his risk of death by 33 percent if he regularly walks at a pace of 4 miles per hour,” Olshansky said. “The fact that it significantly reduces this man’s risk of death is valuable to the person walking, and also valuable to companies interested in interacting with someone with his level of daily physical activity.”

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

“Imagine getting paid to upload your wearable sensor information to a new health data cloud,” Olshansky said. “Not only would researchers and companies be interested, but your own physician could access the data at your next physical to see, in effect, how you’d ‘driven’ your body since your last visit. “That information would provide a much better, more accurate picture of your overall health than the snapshot you get from blood and urine collected on the day of your once-a-year checkup.”