The Problem with Fitbit Based Life Insurance

September 25, 2018 by
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What happened?

The 156-year-old life insurance company, John Hancock announced last week that they will now require all policyholders to use wearable devices to record health and fitness data.

Like a Fitbit?

Or an Apple Watch, Garmin or any other digital device that tracks your movement patterns.

Since 2015, John Hancock has offered policy discounts for customers who use wearables but making it mandatory is a first for the industry. According to Brooks Tingle, head of John Hancock’s insurance unit, those “policyholders worldwide live 13 to 21 years longer than the rest of the insured population.”

13 to 21 years?

That’s what they said, but recent studies aren’t sold on the correlation between wearbles and actually improving health or fitness, or even persuading them to be more active.

In a year-long study involving 800 randomly selected participants, which was published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology in 2016, found “no evidence of improvements in health outcomes” even for those wearing Fitbits. That same year, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a two-year long study analyzing 470 eighteen to 35-year-old to see if wearing a Fitbit correlated to greater weight loss.

Spoiler alert: it did not. They actually lost less weight than those who did not wear one.

“As wearable devices are becoming more popular and may facilitate an initial lifestyle change, their effects on improving long-term outcomes remains to be seen,” said Dani Urcuyo, a CrossFitter and lead physician of SteadyMD’s primary care practice for CrossFit athletes. “However, even if wearable devices do not change long-term outcomes their potential benefit may help healthcare practitioners provide better care. The information obtained from wearable technology generates a repository of data to build predictive models focusing on future health.”

Greg Glassman on the other hand, is not a big fan. He made headlines back in 2016 after saying in a CNBC interview that fitness trackers belonged in the “junk drawer.”

Our take on why CrossFitters should be concerned.

  1. They just can’t track CrossFit, yet. When Margaux Alvarez rowed the ninth fastest marathon in the world among men at the 2018 CrossFit Games, during her 3 hour and 42 second row her Fitbit would have reminded her to get up and walk around because she was idle too long. Plain and simple, if companies like John Hancock start requiring step or distance thresholds in order to get better policy rates, CrossFitters may not qualify. There is some hope in this area as a new wearable called NEXUS was recently released which reportedly can accurately track CrossFit workouts rep-for-rep.
  2. What one insurance company can do, another insurance company can do. As of right now, this only applies to life insurance. But what happens when it’s health insurance and all of the above is still true. Wearables can’t quantify how your Fran time translates to being A). clearly very active that day and B). a pretty fit individual.
  3. How secure are those things anyways? Fitness apps have been hacked multiple times stealing millions upon millions of users data. In March of 2018, MyFitnessPal was hacked and 150 million records were stolen. And in 2016, hackers gained access to Fitbit’s GPS history log as well as sleep data for individual users.

All this to say, with little to no health benefit, some major privacy and security concerns, what’s the real upside here?

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