Is technology helping or hindering our health?

Is technology helping or hindering our health?

From making vast banks of information available within seconds, to enabling us to purchase almost anything with a click of a button – technological advancements have revolutionised every aspect of our lives. In fact, remembering a time when it wasn’t an intrinsic part of our day-to-day life is almost an impossible feat.

Although ‘revolutionising’, this is not to say that all changes have been positive. While in many ways significantly improving our lives, in others technology has actually resulted in a number of negative repercussions.

Health is an area which springs to mind as a great example of where technology can be considered both friend and foe. On one hand it has allowed people and healthcare systems around the world to better diagnose, treat and monitor health; while on the other, it has made possible the culture of convenience that we live in today.

Dr Doug Wright, Medical Director at Aviva, states that “this ‘head in the sand’ attitude is placing a huge stress on the NHS.” Aviva’s Health Check Report emphasises growing issues and concerns regarding people’s health in the UK. The report highlights the fact that half of Brits are now either overweight or obese – a figure that is affected by peoples relationship with technology. Doug mentions that a factor which is greatly affecting our wellbeing is that “a large number do not have the inclination to change their bad habits.”

In order to better understand the link between technology and health, we looked into the ways in which smartphones are both aiding and hindering us in our quest for a healthy lifestyle.

The pros

Without a shadow of a doubt, 2015 was the year of the mobile. Not only do more people now own a smartphone than ever before, but last year the device overtook all others in terms of how we get online. It comes as no surprise therefore that the healthcare industry has begun to utilise the medium to improve patient care.

As the number of people who use apps to access information about health and wellbeing is still relatively low – only 9% of people doing so – we will not dwell on this point. But when it comes to using the internet to access this kind of information, the figure is far higher.

So, how are people using the internet to retrieve this kind of information? And are they finding this useful?

 

% of people who have used the internet for

% who say information found it useful

Searching for a symptom or to self-diagnose

73%

90%

To read up on how to manage a condition or illness

63%

93%

To get information on how to improve their health

39%

90%

In order to research potential medicines, treatments

39%

91%

To find out if there are any risks linked to a procedure

38%

95%

The figures clearly indicate that people are finding medical information accessed through the internet extremely helpful. Although some may be a little sceptical about sources – stating that these can be ‘unscientific’ and cause anxiety – a large number of us are informing ourselves through credible sites such as NHS direct, 73%, and NetDoctor or WebMD, 43%. 90% of people believing that it’s better to look after their own health in order to make sure the NHS can cope.

In June 2015, the NHS announced that it would start monitoring patients with long-term health conditions remotely through wearable gadgets. The readings will synchronise automatically with their records and deliver real-time updates on their health. With three millions Brits predicted to be suffering from at least three long-term medical conditions by 2018, this breakthrough could result in the health of many, maybe not necessarily improving, but certainly being more manageable.

But it’s not only healthcare systems that are utilising gadgets to monitor health, we too are taking advantage of the technology. With many smartphone manufacturers now creating mobiles with in-built health monitoring, it’s now easier than ever to keep an eye on our wellbeing. From apps that track our steps and count the calories we burn, to ones that analyse our sleep patterns, as the now cliché slogan once read, ‘there’s an app for that’. With health and fitness apps being the fastest growing category in 2014, it seems that many of us are exploiting these to keep ourselves healthy.

The cons

Mobile apps and widespread access to the internet has, on many fronts, also thrown a spanner in the works of our pursuit of a healthy lifestyle. Numerous debates have developed in recent years relating to the degree to which various forms of technology have made us lazy and affected our mental health. But, rather than focus on technology in general, here we will again turn the spot light specifically to smartphones.

As we mentioned earlier, the UK is facing a hefty, excuse the pun, epidemic. Merely 39% of British men are a healthy weight and, albeit slightly healthier, only 46% of women can say the same. From food deliveries to office desks, to late night pizza binges, in many ways takeaway and food delivery apps are facilitating our unhealthy lifestyle. Speaking about takeaway food, Kurtis Lynch, Personal Trainer at Matt Roberts, tells us that “it is ok for you to eat this type of food in moderation if you stick to the 90/10 rule, and you exercise.” Kurtis expands on this stating that “if 90% of the time you have a good diet plan, then 10% of your diet can be from take away meals.” But with 59% of Brits stating they find exercise boring, and 51% mentioning it’s too expensive to eat healthily, it seems that as a nation we’re far from achieving the balance Kurtis mentions.

Recent scientific research has revealed that stress also makes us more prone to eating unhealthy food. The fact that a growing number of people in the UK experience stress – a figure which the Aviva report established to be 33% in 2015 – is pushing us even closer toward clicking that button and ordering an unhealthy meal.

So, is technology the solution, or the problem?

The ways in which technology is able to not only contribute to our wellbeing, but also to aid the healthcare system in diagnosing, monitoring and treating us are ever growing. The fact that almost half of Brits say they would be happy to be diagnosed digitally, and 57% believe using digital technology could improve their health, indicates that we, as a nation, are ready to embrace these new forms of healthcare.

Although smartphones are facilitating the consumption of unhealthy food, the benefits these have brought to our general wellbeing far outweigh the negatives. In a society where everything is only a click of a button away, it comes down to us as individuals to resist the temptation of gluttony.

Sources

http://www.livescience.com/50489-are-health-apps-harmful-or-helpful-experts-debate.html

http://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/google-play-store-2014-most-downloaded-apps/

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