Why Apple Watch is the biggest step backwards for your health in the last decade

As technology paces forward, I get excited about what it means for everyone’s health – tracking vitals, better access to information about your body, and faster feedback as to what’s working and what’s not, will all help us live more healthy lives and have the energy and physique we want. So why then is the new Watch from Apple the biggest leap backward since the food pyramid?

The simple answer to this lies in one of Watch’s core features: the ‘fitness’ tracking.

Apple’s Watch does have some impressive features. GPS via your iPhone. Heart rate monitor. Advanced motion detecting hardware and software.

It’ll remind you to get out of your chair – I love this.

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It’ll remind you about how you’re doing towards your exercise goal – another great feature.

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It’ll give you a nice run-down of how you’re doing too.

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(Note that outdoor activities are favored by California-based Apple – the weather is lovely there and its far more interesting to map an outdoor run, rather than one on a treadmill.)

I have to admit though, I had a chuckle when Tim cook mentioned the incredible things Apple Watch lets you do. “With Watch, you can do things like run outdoors”. I’m pretty sure I’ve been running outdoors for a while already. But perhaps it’ll be better with a Watch.

So what’s wrong then?

Well, put simply, for a company that has such excellent attention to detail, Apple are approximately 120 years behind with one key feature: calories.

Their Watch tracks calories via heart rate, and puts your ‘burn’ front-and-center on many different screens.

Here we see the primary calorie tracking screen:

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As you can see, Apple have decided to use calories as the currency of movement.

The problem with this, is that it represents what we understood about exercise and the human body, approximately 120 years ago. Wilbur Atwater began tests in 1896, and soon after, we had the idea of food calories, and the calories contained in fat, protein and carbohydrate.

Think for a moment about what other science was popular in that time. Coke still had cocaine as an ingredient. The primary method of transport was a horse. That same year, it was discovered that penicillin was an antibiotic.

We’ve come a long way since then. Or so we think.

Calories in/calories out was popularized in the early to mid 1900′s, and went hand in hand with the grain-based food pyramid – which turned out to be nutrition advice that gave a whole generation increased heart disease and obesity. We’re still seeing the effects in healthcare expenses and rising diabetes rates today.

So what about the Watch?

With a heart-rate on the Watch, Apple had the perfect opportunity to provide meaningful information to every Watch user about their body. How long has their body experienced high-intensity exercise, how long has it experienced moderate-intensity exercise? There is plenty of public information about the combination of the two being ideal for good health (think about 20-60 minutes high intensity a week in short periods, along with a few hours at moderate intensity).

Instead, Apple has given people exactly what the old science suggests – that a unit of energy in a science lab is exactly the same in the human body. That 1 unit of energy in, from an apple, or a candy bar, or a Coke, can be exchanged for exercise. Like earning a dollar, and spending a dollar. Sounds very simple, and easy, right? Too bad its nothing like what really happens in the body.

And this method of managing food and exercise has led many people down a frustrating path that not only doesn’t get results, but can worsen health due to decreased fat consumption, and increased reliance on carbohydrates.

Worse yet, Apple have set people up to believe that measuring calories is the key to becoming more healthy. Here we see their goal screen:

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If Apple had bothered to do 1 week of research on human health, they would have easily achieved a better, healthier result for every Watch user.

Instead, what we have now is 119-year-old science, baked into a brand new product that people will rely on.

I expect this will keep people counting their calories and wondering why they’re gaining weight and feeling tired, and it will keep people doing the simplified math of calories in minus calories out, only to miss out on reaching their goals, all while increase their risk of heart disease and diabetes, by over-consuming sugars and carbs, and under-consuming healthy fats.

My suggestion to Apple is to reconsider using calories as the currency of movement, and health.

It would be simple to measure intensity levels of exercise, and report this back to the user, based on heart rate. This would lead every Watch user to a healthier lifestyle, and a reduced risk of metabolic-related illnesses. It would also help us move on from the incorrect science of food and exercise calories, which is now over 100 years old. It truly is an opportunity to lead people into a new era of understanding their bodies, and living a healthier life.

But for now, Apple Watch is a handy timepiece that gives you some cool features, but fails to help you live a substantially healthier life, and it perpetuates the idea that 1 calorie from a candy bar is interchangeable with 1 calorie from broccoli, which we know is incorrect.

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