Skip to main content

Health apps and wearables help rich people the most, study finds

Health apps and wearables help rich people the most, study finds

/

They don’t help improve physical activity for poorer people

Share this story

Fitness Trackers Running

Digital tools like motivational text messages that try to nudge people to do more physical activity aren’t effective for poor people, according to a new meta-analysis. In one of the most comprehensive efforts to tease apart the impact of behavioral change programs on people with different income levels, the study authors showed that apps and wearables only helped bump physical activity levels for people with high socioeconomic status.

The finding bolsters arguments that digital health interventions can end up widening health gaps between groups and that they’re designed for people with more money and more education.

The new analysis looked at 19 studies that tested whether things like text messages, web-based prompts, or wearable step trackers could nudge people to increase their levels of physical activity. Across all of the studies, the behavioral tools were not effective for people with low socioeconomic status, even when they worked well for wealthier people. That pattern held across every type of approach tested.

Digital health tools are often described as ways to shrink health inequality because they can package useful health interventions into cheaper, easy-to-distribute forms. More and more people are gaining access to the tools and technologies (like phones and wearable devices) that deploy them. This study, though, indicates that even when people in high- and low-income brackets both have access to digital health tools, those tools don’t necessarily narrow health gaps.

The study authors point to a few reasons why that might be the case. People of lower socioeconomic status tend to have lower electronic health literacy, meaning that they are less able to use technology to improve their health. They may not be as able to navigate the physical activity tools or apply them as effectively. They may also not have as much time as wealthier consumers to do the types of things the digital tools suggest, like going for more walks or exercising more frequently.

This analysis looked specifically at digital tools that aim to boost physical activity, but the study authors wrote that it’s reasonable to assume that there would be the same pattern in programs that target other types of health behaviors. As health becomes more and more digitized — with the adoption of electronic health records, introduction of more systems that track patients’ at home, and a shift towards telemedicine — figuring out how technological change exacerbates inequality is even more critical, the authors say.

But even if the problem appears to be industry-wide, it might be difficult to convince the people developing digital health tools to figure out ways to ensure that their products benefit lower-income groups, the study authors wrote. The goal for most consumer-focused digital health companies is to make money, and their focus is often on the customers mostly like to buy their products. “The onus will likely be on researchers and public health advocates to address the discrepancy,” the authors wrote.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed Sep 25 Not just you

E
Twitter
Emma RothSep 25
Rihanna’s headlining the Super Bowl Halftime Show.

Apple Music’s set to sponsor the Halftime Show next February, and it’s starting out strong with a performance from Rihanna. I honestly can’t remember which company sponsored the Halftime Show before Pepsi, so it’ll be nice to see how Apple handles the show for Super Bowl LVII.


E
Twitter
Emma RothSep 25
Starlink is growing.

The Elon Musk-owned satellite internet service, which covers all seven continents including Antarctica, has now made over 1 million user terminals. Musk has big plans for the service, which he hopes to expand to cruise ships, planes, and even school buses.

Musk recently said he’ll sidestep sanctions to activate the service in Iran, where the government put restrictions on communications due to mass protests. He followed through on his promise to bring Starlink to Ukraine at the start of Russia’s invasion, so we’ll have to wait and see if he manages to bring the service to Iran as well.


E
External Link
Emma RothSep 25
We might not get another Apple event this year.

While Apple was initially expected to hold an event to launch its rumored M2-equipped Macs and iPads in October, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman predicts Apple will announce its new devices in a series of press releases, website updates, and media briefings instead.

I know that it probably takes a lot of work to put these polished events together, but if Apple does pass on it this year, I will kind of miss vibing to the livestream’s music and seeing all the new products get presented.


E
External Link
Emma RothSep 24
California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoes the state’s “BitLicense” law.

The bill, called the Digital Financial Assets Law, would establish a regulatory framework for companies that transact with cryptocurrency in the state, similar to New York’s BitLicense system. In a statement, Newsom says it’s “premature to lock a licensing structure” and that implementing such a program is a “costly undertaking:”

A more flexible approach is needed to ensure regulatory oversight can keep up with rapidly evolving technology and use cases, and is tailored with the proper tools to address trends and mitigate consumer harm.


Welcome to the new Verge

Revolutionizing the media with blog posts

Nilay PatelSep 13
A
Youtube
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Look at this Thing.

At its Tudum event today, Netflix showed off a new clip from the Tim Burton series Wednesday, which focused on a very important character: the sentient hand known as Thing. The full series starts streaming on November 23rd.


A
The Verge
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Get ready for some Netflix news.

At 1PM ET today Netflix is streaming its second annual Tudum event, where you can expect to hear news about and see trailers from its biggest franchises, including The Witcher and Bridgerton. I’ll be covering the event live alongside my colleague Charles Pulliam-Moore, and you can also watch along at the link below. There will be lots of expected names during the stream, but I have my fingers crossed for a new season of Hemlock Grove.


T
Twitter
Tom WarrenSep 23
Has the Windows 11 2022 Update made your gaming PC stutter?

Nvidia GPU owners have been complaining of stuttering and poor frame rates with the latest Windows 11 update, but thankfully there’s a fix. Nvidia has identified an issue with its GeForce Experience overlay and the Windows 11 2022 Update (22H2). A fix is available in beta from Nvidia’s website.