personal health education

Personal Health Education and the Death of the Tech Guy Stereotype

Below you find a post that I originally wrote for edcetera, but itt did not make it on the blog. It was intended to be part of my 2013 prediction series and the recent news and events around fitness and health startups reminded me of this draft.

Hence, I thought why not publish it here as I just wrote about the topic the other day. I think it’s still as relevant and should give you some ideas on what personal health education and tracking might impact down the road.

This past weekend, I had the pleasure to coach some amazing teams at Startup Weekend EDU in London. It’s always great to see ideas come to life in just 54 hours. I even spotted a new trend, one which I would call readiness — may it be pre-school, school or college. But that’s not what I would like to write about today.

In 2013 an emerging trend in education is personal health education, and I think this will have a massive effect on society and the workplace starting this year.

Like adaptiveness, personal health education gives us access to data and insights we were not able to get easily until now. If you wanted to get information about your state of fitness, your sleep, your metabolism and all that, you needed to consult a doctor. Today, there’s an app for that, as Apple would phrase it.

PC in Your Pocket

We often forget how powerful smartphones have become in the past year. We are carrying around full-fledged personal computers in our pocket, and the hardware is capable of amazing things when the right software runs on the device.

And most concepts of how to live healthier and get fit are already proven and out there. The thing is, we often find it very hard to keep up with our learning and training efforts, especially when we have to remind or motivate ourselves on our own. And that’s a thing technology and software are changing already.

Getting back to my original field of expertise, language learning, the so-called Leitner system and early variations of it have been available for centuries. But creating physical flashcards, learning with them, putting them into the right boxes and reminding oneself when to re-learn them again is, for most people, a task that is too complex or too hard to keep up with.

Flashcard learning applications changed that dramatically, as all the work is now done by the program. There are pre-loaded learning sets on a variety of topics, so all we have to do now is to load the app and learn — which is a whole different problem, but more on that in a minute.

The same is, of course, true with diets, fitness and general tasks to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Proven concepts are out there, but access was not as easy as loading an app. You needed to get in touch with a personal trainer or go to a gym, consult a doctor or dietitian, which eventually ends up costing money.

The Death of the Tech Guy Stereotype

But thanks to smartphones, applications and extra hardware we can now track exercises, how much we walk per day, how often we stand instead of sitting, how well we sleep, and more. There are devices that remind you to sit straight and a fork that slows you down when you eat too fast. Sure, most of those devices seem to be gimmicky and clunky at the moment, but the concepts behind them are what really counts.

As soon as we have a complete data set of our behavior throughout the day, we just need an application that will make it easy for us to understand the data and then learn how to change habits that are unhealthy. But there is also a flip side.

A couple of years ago, I noticed that more and more startups and established players in Silicon Valley started to cater healthy meals to their employees. That was first based on the startup founders who noticed that a healthy and conscious lifestyle helped them perform better in the stressful environment of running a tech company.

If we now take this a step further, we can also assume other benefits. Health care costs are going through the roof, and are a big part of what companies need to spend year in and year out. In a world in which health and fitness can easily be tracked, employers could start giving out benefits to employees who take care of themselves — and punish those who don’t. I could imagine that checking accounts on fitness apps will become as part of the hiring process as background checks on social media are today. It won’t be enough to have a great GitHub profile; you’ll also be asked to show off your fitness data.

And let’s face it, it is a lost argument from the start to say, “No, I prefer my unhealthy lifestyle.” It is not only bad for yourself, it is also bad for the company you are working for and society itself, as everyone has to pay for health care costs. Therefore, I predict the death of the stereotypical tech guy who lives on pizza and soda, with World of Warcraft being his only sport.

We also know that good nutrition is linked to better performance of kids in school; it has effects on the growth of their brains, attention spans, temper, and much more. Training kids through games and applications to take care of their own health will be another huge vertical. Green Goose is a great example — they gamify daily tasks like brushing your teeth with sensors attached to the tooth brush.

Rewards and Punishment

If we take this a step further down the road, we will see implications like insurance companies offering rebates when you use their tracking system and follow their advice to stay healthy. We’ll also see punishments, like increased rates when you decide to opt-out or choose the couch potato lifestyle.

Later on, we will be able to diagnose most common health issues on our own, or the device will even work proactively and diagnose ailments automatically for us without needing to see a doctor. If this will actually cut down the cost of the health care system is hard to say; probably not — at least not immediately. On the other hand, we will be far more knowledgeable about ourselves, and being healthier might lead to higher productivity and more innovation.

Picture from Jurassic Park