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Why a fitness tracker won’t stop diabetes


Prediabetes can be reversed — but it requires time, support, and lifestyle changes IRL that apps and smartwatches can’t supply.

For decades, November has been the designated national awareness month for diabetes in the U.S. And for decades, national diabetes rates have continued to climb. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 88 million American adults — more than one in three — already have prediabetes. Sadly, that number is also growing, and we shouldn’t look to technology for solutions.

People with prediabetes can become insulin resistant. But most — 84% — don’t even know they have it, placing them at greater risk for developing not only diabetes, but also heart disease, stroke, and even severe COVID-19. A study presented at an American Diabetes Association event in June found that 40% of Americans who died of COVID-19 had diabetes as a comorbidity.

It may be heresy to say it in this app-obsessed era, but technology isn’t going to fix this problem. America’s increasing adoption of smart gadgets and fitness trackers and wellness apps hasn’t hindered growing obesity rates or rising prediabetes cases any more than fad diets. When it comes to prediabetes, tech just isn’t making any impact.

If you’re one of the 88 million, you can make lifestyle changes now to reverse the connected underlying conditions of your prediabetes status, such as obesity, hypertension, and high blood sugar. Type 2 diabetes is not inevitable. But prevention requires more than counting calories or steps. It requires becoming healthier.

There’s no app for that — but that doesn’t mean there’s no help.

Lifestyle change is a process that requires commitment. The year-long National Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) created by the CDC is clinically proven to reduce participant risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 58% (71% for people over age 60). It works, but not at the push of a button.

DPP hinges on behavior modification through a full year of integrated advice and support along many vectors. You are guided in making a personal plan, trying it, and probably failing. Then you make a new plan and iterate, learning what works for you with reinforcement and professional support to weather tough times. For some, finding time to be active is key. For others, it is figuring out stress triggers or realizing what a healthy portion of food really looks like. A full year of coaching takes you through the initial excitement of trying something new and continues sustaining you after the novelty wears off. DPP is structured on human interaction for human empowerment. An app alone can’t do this.

From a habit-change perspective, a fitness device isn’t enough. To make lifestyle changes that stick for the long-term, they need to integrate into your real life in the real world.

The good news is that the CDC’S DPP is covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and major health insurance plans. The focus is on creating small, ongoing habit changes that combine regular activity, healthy eating, stress management, sleep hygiene, mindfulness, and learning for better overall well-being. Fitness tracking apps and calorie counters can play a part in the program, but for truly sustainable changes to occur, their insights are integrated into a personal and cohort experience that incorporates individualized coaching and a sense of community.

It’s never too late to improve your health and change your future. You can start by taking the free prediabetes risk test on the CDC website. Ask your doctor if you qualify for a covered Diabetes Prevention Program with certified DPP coaches in your area.

A diagnosis of prediabetes does not mean your fate is sealed. DPP can help you reverse it. You don’t need an app to tell you that lifestyle change is within your control.
Karl Ronn is the founder and CEO of First Mile Care (www.firstmilecare.com), a preventative chronic care company. Mr. Ronn is a former vice president of research and development and general manager of new business/healthcare for Procter & Gamble. First Mile Care is a spinout company from Health2047, the Silicon Valley innovation subsidiary of the American Medical Association.

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