These days it often feels like there are 20 million different gadgets or apps thrust under your nose, each promising to revolutionise your life in some way. Each will make life easier, make you prettier, healthier and happier. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I have found just the thing. It’s meticulous, it’s obsession-inducing, and it’s probably the future of health. Enter Withings: the eye-wateringly expensive and absurdly intimate scales that record just about every personal detail imaginable, save for emotional state, and gently encourage your subsequent metamorphosis into Adonis/Aphrodite (delete as appropriate).
How it works is fairly simple. You wake up, grunt, realise another day of this wicked world looms, stand on the scales very briefly. Couldn’t be easier. The scales, in a blink of an eye, proceed to tell you how much you weigh, your body mass index, body fat percentage, heart rate, pulse wave velocity (more on that later). And the weather. In case you live underground, I guess. Each reading flashes up very briefly, with a terrifying + or – symbol that reflects how many Mars bars you ate over the weekend, or possibly how your health regime is paying off. It does indeed sound over the top, but it couldn’t be simpler. All you need to do is decide how much you’re going to heed what it tells you.
The health data is linked to an app, which opens up a world of information and statistics on your body. You begin to care about things that were hitherto unimportant. The app can track your movement, churn out simple graphs, advise on weight goals… the options are seemingly endless.
All the data tends to encourage obsessiveness. But is it actually effective? Or is it yet another fancy gadget with grand promises and no follow-through?
The biggest innovation, apparently, is the pulse wave velocity measure. This is supposed to measure the health of your heart (medical, not emotional). It tracks the speed of the pressure wave along the arterial tree, which affects the heartbeat, which, it turns out, can be measured by the blood flow in your feet when you stand on the scale.
Dr Pierre Boutouyrie, cardiologist at the Georges-Pompidou Hospital in Paris, is clearly an advocate. ‘If we could have just one measurement for cardiovascular health, it would be pulse wave velocity. Alone it tells us more than all the other indicators combined.’
Dr David Warriner, a cardiology registrar and writer for Spectator Health, isn’t so sure. ‘It is not in routine clinical use, so most cardiologists will not know how to interpret the results,’ he says. ‘Essentially it’s the perfect example of too much medicine. It will cause anxiety to patients and lead to unnecessary further testing and referral.’
Maybe it’s best to forget about pulse wave velocity. Aside from that, though, Withings is actually quite reassuring. Because you’re tracking your movement, you want to move more. That might mean getting off the bus a couple of stops earlier than necessary, or taking a stroll in your lunch hour that you wouldn’t have otherwise. I, for one, am addicted.