Today, the Pew Internet and Life Center published a report, Tracking for Health (link here). In previous posts, I’ve said that keeping track of symptoms and goals is a magic lever for me in managing my health. I keep track on a spreadsheet of walking, triking, playing my saxophone, sleep, and my weight. It helps me maximize my activity and music and keep tabs on my weight and sleep. While tracking seems a good thing intuitively, this report provides the evidence.
According to the report, 69% of U.S. adults track a health indicator like weight, diet, exercise routine, or symptom. Of those, half track “in their heads,” one-third keep notes on paper, and one in five use technology to keep tabs on their health status. Trackers can monitor for themselves or for those they take care of. It makes sense that more people who report chronic conditions track than those who don’t:
- 19% of U.S. adults reporting no chronic conditions say they track health indicators or symptoms
- 40% of U.S. adults with 1 condition are trackers
- 62% of U.S. adults with 2+ conditions are tracker
My challenge with tracking is keeping up with it. I sometimes use an app to track calories. It’s the best way for me to keep the weight off. Sometimes is the key word. I always use the spreadsheet which has my daily weight, but only use the app when my weight goes over my upper limit. This study asked respondents to think about the health indicator paid the most attention to, either for themselves or someone else, and then tell how often they update their records, whether on a regular basis, or only when something comes up or changes. Half of trackers (49%) say they update their records only occasionally, when something comes up or changes; half (46%) say they update on a regular basis. Older trackers (age 50+) are more likely than younger ones to track on a regular basis.
The finding that motivates me the most is that one-third of trackers (34%) say they share their health tracking records or notes with another person or group, either online or offline. Women are more likely than men to share their data (39% vs. 29%) as are older trackers (39% of those ages 65+ vs. 31% of 18-29 year olds). I don’t share my spreadsheet with my doctors. I think I will. I’m curious if they care. It’s a means to mutual engagement.
I’ve wondered about the impact of tracking. So what? Does it make a difference? Yes, this study looks at that, too: Change in overall approach to health, ask doctors new questions, affected a health decision. Tracking has a greater impact on those living with a chronic condition. Trackers who experienced a recent significant health change are likely report that tracking has had an impact.
The Pew study confirms for me that tracking is a magic lever for best health.