Survey sheds light on how US adults track their health

Jan. 28, 2013, 3:50 p.m.

Thirty-four percent of respondents in a new Pew poll said they keep track of their health indicators in a notebook or a journal. (Lew Holzman/Flickr Creative Commons)

Most Americans keep track of their health in one way or another, according to a new survey, but whether they're doing a very good job at it is up for debate.

A new Pew poll shows that nearly seven in 10 U.S. adults track "a health indicator for themselves or a loved one."

For 60 percent of those adults, that means tracking weight, diet or exercise habits. Thirty percent said they track blood pressure, blood sugar, headaches or sleep patterns, and 12 percent said they track health indicators or symptoms for somebody else.

You think that'd be a good thing – the more you know about your health and body, the better, right? While that may be true, it doesn't seem as if trackers are big on precision: Just under 50 percent said they keep track of their health "in their heads." Thirty-four percent also said they keep hard-copy records using a notebook or journal.

And, despite the fact that this is the age of the Internet, the smartphone and the cloud, just 21 percent – one in five – said they use some form of technology to track their health data.

That makes sense, wrote the authors, since certain elements of health, like weight, are easier to keep track of and interpret than others (e.g. blood sugar).

"This finding is, however, a challenge to technology developers who would like to convince people to upgrade their habits," the report says. "In order to capture this segment of the market they must strive to create a tool that is as seamless as keeping track in your head."

The survey did reveal, perhaps intuitively, that people with more serious conditions tend to do a better job keeping track of their health: 19 percent of adults with no chronic conditions say they track their health, while the same is true for 40 percent of adults with one health condition and 62 percent of adults with two or more health conditions.

Many trackers are pretty sporadic with their record-keeping: About half of those who keep an eye on their health indicators report updating their records "only occasionally," while 46 percent say they do so "on a regular basis."

On the other hand, 13 percent report updating their health records several times per day.

Photo by Lew Holzman via Flickr Creative Commons.

Stories nearby