Sunday, 15 January 2017

Fitness trackers and DNA testing

I was intrigued by a recent article on the BBC website about the efficacy of fitness trackers. I’ve been wearing a fitness tracker for about six months now and I’m pretty convinced about its benefits, it’s not that I think it’s some sort of a miraculous panacea, but I find it very useful for encouraging me to keep active. I keep track of my step count each day and if I haven’t been active enough I make an effort to put in a bit extra, or if I fall short one day I try to catch up the next. I also use it to log changes in my weight each week and to keep an eye on how much sleep I’m getting.
It is true that the majority of my weight loss in the last twelve months came before I started wearing a fitbit, but it would be wrong to take that as evidence that not wearing one is more effective that wearing one. I lost more weight at the start because at my starting point I was heavier and my overall fitness was lower, by the time I started wearing one I’d already significantly improved my basic fitness (from a very poor base line) and incremental improvements where always going to be more challenging. To go from homeworking most days to commuting was a step change in activity, but I can only walk to the office once in a morning, and back to the station once in the afternoon and I only get one lunchbreak to take a walk. So there are practical, physical restrictions on the scope for exercise, if not the effectiveness. What the fitbit has done is supported my ongoing progress, helping me to avoid slipping backwards.
One thing in the BBC article that did get my attention is the idea of genetic testing to aid weight loss. I’ve long had a suspicion that there are insights into my diet that could unlock more effective weight loss strategies, at least beyond the usual boiler plate of eat more rabbit more and do more exercise (not that such generic prescriptions are worthless, they’re just very limited). I like the idea of customised dieting advice based on scientific evidence; it’s a bugbear of mine that the various NHS practitioners I regularly come into contact with hassle me to lose weight, but without ever offering any practical, customised support. I don’t hold it against them, I understand resources are tight, but the official Government driven approach appears to be all stick i.e. sugar taxes and treatment rationing (including rationing based on pseudoscience like BMI), and no carrot i.e. making customised nutritional advice more readily available to obese people like myself. I can’t help but feel that the official approach to obesity related health could be more cost effective long-term with a bit more investment and focus short-term.
I’m seriously considering paying for a service like the one offered by DNAFit, I just need to find the one that will offer me the most useful benefit for the fee. What I really want is some customised guidance around what food/nutrition I should avoid and what I should favour. I’m not really interested in the “value added” parts of the products (value added being business speak for boosting profit margins by selling lower value bolt-on products at a price that suggests they are actually high value products); I don’t want recipe books, eating plans or exercise plans, I can work things like that out based on my own preferences once I have the underlying nutritional insight. Nor do I want to be flogged ongoing fitness services or be benchmarked against Olympic athletes, or any of the stuff that probably delivers the most profitable customers.
I’m really just looking for a company that will offer basic but comprehensive diet testing. I’m sure all the “value added” stuff might be useful if I was a fitness nut, or even if I was still playing organised sport like I was ten years ago, but these days it’s simply about being healthy and getting my weight down to 100kg.  But most importantly I want anonymity, whatever my test results are they need to be completely confidential. I don’t want them shared without me choosing to do so proactively, nor do I want the risk of being required to disclose them to some third party (such as an insurance company) at a later date simply because they exist. I know there are pretty good data protection laws in the UK, but that doesn’t mean a company cannot be hacked, nor does it prevent a situation where one day I’m legally coerced into sharing them. Ideally, I’d like the process to be completely anonymous, with my sample and the records from it destroyed within a sensible time frame.
I think I have some research to do, but this blog post lookslike a useful start

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