Walking Dead? Data From Smartphones Could Predict Mortality Risk

You might be taking a leisurely stroll through your neighbourhood or browsing the aisles of a grocery store. Your smartphone is probably also travelling with you, either serving as a podcast player or a virtual security system.

What if, though, the phone could compile information from your regular cardio workouts to estimate how long you’ll live?

Although there may not yet be an app for that, University of Illinois researchers recently published a study in the journal PLOS Digital Health that laid the framework for the possibility.

According to Bruce Schatz, PhD, a medical informatics specialist at the University of Illinois and a co-author of the study, “It’s generally recognised that people [who] walk more — and move more energetically — live longer.” We ultimately tried to determine what could be inferred from walking motion that was relevant to medicine.

Data from more than 100,000 persons between the ages of 45 and 79 were extracted by Schatz and his coworkers from the UK Biobank, a biological database in the United Kingdom. For a week, participants wore wrist sensors continuously as they went about their daily activities, and researchers analysed data from each study participant’s 12 consecutive 30-second walking periods.

Over a 5-year period, the researchers looked at the individuals’ walking pace and utilised that information to forecast their probability of passing away each year.

The data was gathered between 2013 and 2015, so the researchers were able to compare the estimations’ accuracy against death certificates. The algorithm was marginally more accurate earlier in time than at the 5-year mark, but the team’s projections closely matched participants’ actual mortality.

You aren’t being told, “You have five minutes to live,” according to Schatz. Instead, ask “How likely is it that you’ll pass away in 5 years vs 2 years?”

Larry Hernandez of San Antonio, Texas, would be willing to test out any programme that can forecast your death date, though. The 42-year-old uses such technologies to encourage his clients to get fitter, according to the private health insurance expert.

Hernandez is adept at monitoring his personal analytics, though. Since starting a running routine in 2015, he has shed 60 pounds, and he still logs a daily 5K on his Apple Watch.

Hernandez declares that it would be fantastic if “today’s activities or yesterday’s activities genuinely got me another, extra year of life.”

Approaching Universal Health Care

Participants wore wrist devices with accelerometers, which are included in even the most affordable smartphones. According to Schatz, these motion sensors are essential for making health information widely available.

According to a 2019 Pew Research Center survey, around 1 in 5 U.S. adults routinely wear smartwatches and other wearable fitness trackers, yet they aren’t affordable for everyone. However, according to a 2021 forecast from Pew, 97% of Americans own a cellphone and 85% own a smartphone.

The application of the formula developed by Schatz and his colleagues has a wide range of practical applications. Without interfering with the patients’ lives, a hospital system, for instance, could potentially monitor the majority of its patients simultaneously via their smartphones and be notified to changes in their walking patterns that may suggest a medical problem.

“What’s important is the population screening. It’s about spotting problems early on when you can still take action, according to Schatz. “There is a great possibility to help a lot of people here.”

MPH candidate Vienna Williams sees a chance for employers. She supports businesses like Uber and Hilton in New York City as the director of the International WELL Building Institute.

Williams notes that the institute already employs such technology to assist customers in understanding employee health patterns. “Wearables and sensors, they help us to actually understand modifiable behaviour, and there’s where we have the potential to intervene,” Williams adds. “Where do we have room to adjust our behaviour in ways that we know enhance our health in the long run?” is the most crucial question that these items help us answer.

Simply by being available to everybody with a smartphone, regardless of socioeconomic level, an app that could predict the chance of mortality may also aid in the elimination of health inequities. A 2018 Pew Research Center survey found that a median of 45% of individuals had a smartphone, even in developing nations like Brazil and Indonesia.

According to Jan Carney, MD, associate dean for public health and health policy at the University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine in Burlington, “The benefits of being physically active are undeniable. However, there exist disparities in the population’s rates of physical activity.

According to Carney, Schatz and his team’s work advances the cause of health equity.

Making such an easy-to-use technology allows you to let many members of a community know how active they are, according to her.

According to Schatz, racial and ethnic diversity should be increased in future investigations. Despite being representative of the U.K. population, the majority of study participants were white. The National Institutes of Health’s All of Us Research Program, which seeks to enrol more than 1 million people, will be used by Schatz’s team to carry out more research.

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