The Quantified Self and diabetes, big data and diabetes



here's simply no end to

what you can measure

about yourself these

days. From your height,

your weight to your

percentage body fat, BMI, heart rate,

blood glucose, waist to hip measurement

and blood pressure. In many ways

diabetes is an unusual health condition

as so much to do with diabetes control is

quantified numerically. Depending on your

aptitude for maths, this is either a bore,

a chore or a distinct challenge. You can

even quantify the time you spend doing

it (doing blood tests, counting carbs,

doing exercise, handing high or low blood


Alone amongst long-term medical

conditions people with diabetes have an

array of tools with which to measure and

deliver our own control. From blood test

meters and CGM sensors (to measure

blood glucose) to and insulin pumps and

pens (to deliver medication). With many

of the tools it is now also possible to

download the data collected. With the

two streams - diagnosis (blood testing)

and delivery (medication) - diabetics have

plenty of data and therefore a greater

opportunity for analysis of your data than

virtually any other health condition.

Knowledge is power

Quantified Self is a website run and

visited by people who are interested in

tracking things and analysing them. You

might ask yourself, do I really want all

this knowledge? Many people who visit

the Quantified Self website do so out of

choice, but as diabetics, would we be

interested in quantifying ourselves if we

didn't have to do it anyway? Even the

fact that we can do it does not necessarily

mean that we want to. We may blood test,

but do we download data to analyse?

Still, the trend of self-tracking is

definitely on the up, and as a community

we're in great shape to make the most

of all our lovely self-monitoring diabetes


American Kevin Kelly, founding

executive editor of Wired magazine, and

who also hosts his local Quantified Self

meet ups in the California Bay area, was

an early commentator on all the kinds of

things that people monitor now. Usually

these are sports-based and food-based,

they were also often diet-related but are

now increasingly health-related.

These days, thanks to the dawn of

the Smartphone phenomenon, many

apps and trackers are being used for

weight management. When it comes

to weight-loss, you're more likely to be

doing this on your own, out of choice,

than as part of any medical intervention.

There are still simple approaches that

can be used. You can go down a very

un-technological route, one based purely

on volume alone, that of fist-size volume -

where you never eat more than a fist full of

food, or no portion larger than the size of

your clenched fist. Though that may seem

unscientific, it's still a form of quantifying

what you're doing.

Making moves

Ultimately, the Quantified Self is all about

measurements, but it can also be used

to track effectiveness and identify bestpractice techniques

(what's working well

for most people in the same boat). You

can log anything - how stressed you feel

you are, or how long each day you spend

sitting down. Taking it further, you can now

get to know yourself on a genetic level, if

you wish to. A very real way to meet the

ancestors is to sign up to something like

X23 and me, a site which suggest that

the more you know about your DNA, the

more you know about yourself.

A simple pedometer can track how

many paces you take in a day, a statistic

from which you can assess if you need

to move more. Other examples are Fitbit

and Jawbone work similarly. Several apps

just use your smartphone to track your

whereabouts and behaviours. Moves is

an app available from Apple's iTunes store

which tracks if you are moving enough

just by your carrying your phone in your

pocket or bag. It can even tell if you are

at the gym (though not if you're using

any of the equipment unless it's still in

your pocket or worn about your person.

Doubtless the Apple Watch will give such

data, if requested to do so by it's wearer,

as that should stay in place on your wrist

no matter where you are.

Withings is a company that has a

smart-looking watch that doubles as a

movement analyser. The company has

blood pressure monitors as well, and

also wi-fi enabled smart body analyser

scales. These can log data via your home

wi-fi so you can actually visualise various

health-related information (like heart rate

or percentage body fat) over a year so you

track and assess variations.


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