Apple's Health Monitoring Could Put it on a Collision Course With the Food Industry

There is objective truth in the form of human body chemistry. Then, there is the lure of advertised food. Apple's apparent move into personal health and fitness could put the two on a collision course.


Watching the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia reminded me that athletes are, generally, on a very strict diet. From watching those background color stories, one can often get a glimpse of the rigorous training and diets of the athletes.

As I recall, coaches monitor the athlete's intake in dietary Calories, and the partition of fat, carbohydrates and protein. A specific kind of prolonged training regimen will require special attention to these details. The point is that the athlete can't afford to eat as he or she pleases, and the optimum performance can be achieved by proper diet, especially as the athlete gets into better and better shape and dietary needs slowly change.

Apple appears, from the kinds of people we've been hearing about that are getting hired, to be working on the health and fitness aspects of wearable computing devices. How could this evolve? At first, this is likely to be external monitoring: pulse, respiration, temperature, sleep cycles, and so on. Eventually, however, it's foreseeable that the technology will extend to the monitoring of blood chemistry with, perhaps, small wireless devices implanted in the bloodstream.

That's when all hell will break loose.

The Advertising of Food

You may or may not pay much attention to TV ads, especially in the evening. My own observation is that there is an overdose of food ads on evening broadcast and cable TV: pizza, sandwiches, sweets, soft drinks, various kinds of snack foods and so on.

Anyone who is on a strict diet or is fasting in preparation for a medical procedure knows that these ads, dripping with gooeyness, melting cheese, bubbling bacon, and so on will drive you right to the refrigerator in a mouth-watered frenzy.

Normally, unlike Olympic athletes, we don't pay much attention to the immediate effects on our body chemistry as a result of being manipulated by these ads. (It's especially insidious for children.) Maybe we get indigestion. We certainly gain too much weight. The long term effects can lead to diabetes and other maladies. But moments after ingestion, the satisfaction of eating is so great that we seldom have any technical insight into the immediate effects on our health.

Red Alert!

A quantitative readout of our blood chemistry, especially if it's displayed in our visual field with something like Google Glass or an optic nerve stimulation — or something as mundane as an iWatch with all kinds of alerts would become a specific and hard-to-ignore, matter of-fact-readout that would potentially raise all kinds of alarms.

User interfaces to personal health could be the next revolution.

A million iOS apps have become quite adept at displaying important information on a small screen. Imagine what would happen if, after a bacon cheeseburger and fries, the iWatch (for the sake of argument) starts to go into visual and audio gyrations like a pinball machine.

Glucose is off the scale!  Your cholesterol level has gone into the danger zone! Sodium level is spiking!

In time, such a detailed monitoring of our health, in direct response to the food we eat, might well become as fine-tuned as that of the olympic athletes. With ample biofeedback, some users will naturally steer away from bad foods while others, as we might surmise, will become fanatic in their attempts to eek out the maximum benefits. It's possible that sharing, social media, perhaps a bit of competitiveness, and a fitness rampage will combine to form a new level of health consciousness and social one-upmanship.

All this could have a significant impact on the advertising of foods that use visual allure, texture, fats and sugars to entice us. The food industry may elect to fight back, ignore the whole thing, lobby the government for protections, or possibly even embrace the fitness craze brought on by the advent of wearable computing devices.

If good things happen, this could be the next major revolution in personal computing. It could also be the next phase of human evolution.


Skaters and teaser image via Shutterstock.