The Culture of Too Much Information

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Here is a point of view whose focus ties in with another recent Childhood Obesity News topic, motivation. By now, everyone knows that for a person interested in health-enhancing change, self-monitoring can be useful. For instance, a 2008 study indicated that a person who keeps a food diary has a good chance of achieving twice as much weight loss as a person who doesn’t.

A report by Melissa Dahl reminds us that an overview of 26 separate studies proved that wearing a pedometer actually motivates people to take more steps. Not surprisingly, people who use more casual methods, or don’t keep track at all, tend to overestimate the amount of activity they engage in.

An optimistic market researcher estimates that in another few years it’s likely that one person in 10 will be hooked up to wearable health devices, of which wristbands are the most practical and popular. Max Hirshkowitz of the National Sleep Foundation may have originated the term “biometric selfie” for the composite picture of vital signs revealed and recorded by the devices. An old saying was, “The camera doesn’t lie,” and now it is the wearable health device that records the inexorable truth.

It gets old

People who have fancy technological devices sometimes lose interest after a while, or seem to. It may simply be that they don’t understand how to interpret or use the flood of detailed information they receive. And then there’s this:

Even though 60 percent of U.S. adults track their weight, diet or exercise routine — using either technology or good old pen-and-paper — more than half of them say that keeping track of their health habits hasn’t actually led to a change in their behavior….

When asked, such a person’s typical response might be, “Interesting, but not motivating.” Cardiologist James Beckerman, MD, of the Providence Heart and Vascular Institute, is dismayed by the extent to which users’ interest seems to center around having their devices post their results to their online social media.

It’s all part of a trend that includes the self-congratulatory album sections of local print publications, those that still exist. They devote an increasing number of pages to photos of citizens at events designed to raise charitable funds, or just out raising a little well-mannered hell at various night spots. It’s as if people need the visual proof that they had a good time, or the blessings of strangers for their fitness efforts. Beckerman says:

I think we’re unfortunately in a culture where the validation of the experience is somehow a stand-in or a more important entity than the experience itself, and that’s so lame.

The antidote suggested by health experts is to set a definite, concrete health goal and use the self-monitoring gizmo as an assistive device to reach it because, Dahl says,

[T]racking the numbers of miles you ran purely for the sake of tracking the number of miles you ran may not ultimately be an effective motivator.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Healthy or TMI? The rise of the ‘biometric selfie’,”, 01/18/14
Image by Roman Boed

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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