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Interview: Richard MacManus on Technology and Health

Liam Butler interviews Richard MacManus author of Trackers: How Technology is helping us Monitor & Improve our Health.

16 January 2015 $29.99

Richard is the founder of technology blog ReadWrite, which he ran from 2003-2012. He is recognised as a leader in articulating what's next in technology and what it means for society. He lives in Wellington.

Question One

Richard, in Trackers you cover the latest and greatest advances in technology and how it can be used to monitor, manage and motivate people's health. What benefits are there to tracking your weight using your scales and a diary?

One of the people I profiled, Amelia Greenhall, started off using a simple scales and a paper notebook to record her weight. So yes it's certainly possible to start off simple and try to get into the habit of recording your weight manually. Amelia eventually switched to an Internet-connected scales, the Withings scale, and found it easier to monitor her progress that way. The main benefit of modern, Internet-connected tools like the Withings Scale and the Fitbit Aria scale is that it makes tracking easier and more functional. The graphing is done for you, the modern scales calculate BMI, you can connect to a community of like-minded people with the same weight goals as you. You can also export your data on many weight tracking sites and cross-relate it to other types of tracking data - such as your eating patterns at a site like MyFitnessPal.

Question Two

You explain that a person's internal motivation to change is the identified as vital in improving health. What personal technologies are readily available and affordable for New Zealanders?

The key thing to motivation in tracking is connecting to a community of like-minded people, which provides the kind of support you'd get if you signed up for Weight Watchers. Ok it's less structured support, but remember that a social support structure is why Weight Watchers and similar services cost so much money. But you can get similar support, for free, on the discussion boards of Fitbit, MyFitnessPal, 23andMe, and other self-tracking services. So I'd encourage people to not just buy a device like Fitbit or download an app like MyFitnessPal, but to check out the thriving communities on their websites.

Question Three

You include a quote from New York City MD's Dr. Robin Berzin ... "Health is something you have to deal with yourself. It's your responsibility. Hopefully we're getting away from the idea that the doctor hand you health." Richard how can technology help us manage better manage obesity which the NZ Medical Association states is now a public health crisis?

One of the keys in managing weight and obesity is understanding what exactly you're putting into your body, day in and day out. I wrote about the diet wars of the 1970s and 80s in my book, because it clearly illustrates the vastly conflicting information we got from so-called dieting experts. We have a history of getting terrible advice about diet over the years, even from official government organizations that should've known better. The benefit of an app like MyFitnessPal is that it enables you to see for yourself what you're putting into your body. You can get an even better picture of what foods do to your body by cross-relating your MyFitnessPal data to your weight, activity and other tracking data. Once you understand how certain foods affect you - for example how eating a lot of bread and pasta piles on the carbs and hence causes you to put on weight - then you can better understand how to prevent it. That's one of the things that Dr. Berzin is aiming for in her practice, to help people help themselves through better self-knowledge.

Richard MacManus author of Trackers: How Technology is helping us Monitor & Improve our Health $29.99

Also available at independent book stores, Whitcoulls and Paper Plus.

The ebook is available on Amazon Kindle, Apple iTunes, Kobo and Nook.

‘... a must-read industry primer and a personal treasure trove for

anyone striving to live a healthier life in the age of information.'

Dr Indu Subaiya, Co-chairman & CEO, Health 2.0

Self-tracking is the practice of measuring and monitoring your health,

activities or diet through technologies such as smartphones, apps,

pedometers and personal genomics, empowering you to take control of

your day to day health. Richard MacManus explains the benefits and

risks of self-tracking and looks at:

• What exactly is being tracked

• The tools and techniques being used

• The best practices of early adopters

• How self-tracking is revolutionizing the health and wellness industries

• How the medical establishment is adapting to these new trends

‘...This book will be a wake-up call to health services and health researchers about the rapidly approaching importance of patient reported

data and the opportunities for collaborating with the medical establishment. Dr Robyn Whittaker, Public health physician and health researcher, Waitemata District Health Board & University of Auckland.

To enter the draw to win a copy of this book CLICK HERE Competition closes 30th January 2015. Open to NZ residents only.

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