Will Health Tech Widen the Life Expectancy Gap?

peter orszag health techIn 2011, Peter Orszag wrote about some of the societal effects that will come with wearable health-monitoring technologies. Three years later, health-oriented tech products are coming out on a weekly basis, and the anticipated Apple & Nike collaboration in this industry is expected to make wearable health tech mainstream.

There is a growing excitement about the potential benefits of wearable devices that can track our heart rate, exercise habits, glucose levels, sleeping patterns, and more. Scales that track our weight and send the info to online health records will get us exercising more. Tracking our exercise, both intentional and incidental, is ramifying health. Devices that hold information about our health history, allergies, prescriptions, and blood type may literally save lives. All of this represents an easy and nuanced way to track, present, and improve our health. We may even see an overall rise in life expectancy.

But who is buying this technology? And who can’t afford to buy in to the programs? There is already a growing gap in life expectancy, with significantly longer life spans for Americans with high levels of income and education. This move toward monitoring our health with technology may widen this gap. The National Academy of Sciences reports that the gap is already widening, as people with more education and income are seeing their own life expectancy rise faster than others. We’ve already seen technology expand income inequality over the past 45 years or so. It looks like it may now have an effect on lifespan inequality.

Men in their fifties with high levels of education live up to six years longer than those with little to no education. Health behavior like diet, exercise, and smoking is often tied to education; men over 50 with a college degree are less than half as likely to smoke as those with just a high school degree. Geographically, some counties in the United States have citizens who live a shocking fifteen years longer than those in other counties.

Health tracking technology is being used disproportionately by people with more education and income, which will further improve health, and most likely increase their life expectancy. People who most need to change their health behavior won’t be helped by new technology unless they own it. Users of health tech are still considered early adopters. As the industry develops, it will be interesting to see if companies are able to reach a wider demographic.

from Peter Orszag Healthcare http://ift.tt/1nvzcSg


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