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Ending Obesity? There’s (Not) an App for That

Steve Jobs did a lot of things during his life, but solving America’s obesity epidemic wasn’t one of them. In a dubious attempt to combat obesity, insurance companies are turning to app technology that they hope will help doctors motivate at risk patients:

In December 2012, Aetna unveiled Passage, a fitness app it developed with Microsoft. App users, after completing their workouts, can synchronize their activities to the app, which take them on virtual tours of what their workouts would be if they ran or biked in Barcelona, New York or Rome. The app offers real-time photos of those locations, restaurant recommendations and historical facts along the routes.

Cigna has also released new wellness apps, including one that helps shoppers evaluate the nutritional content of their groceries. These are not the only kind of fitness-promoting technology we’ve seen in recent years. Wii Sports allows users to play tennis and baseball from their living rooms, and Via Meadia staffers have even been known to make use of Zombie Apocalypse running apps from time to time.

Some of these apps are more promising than others, but in general we’re skeptical that this kind of technology will have any real effect on obesity. People who stock up on chips and Snickers already know they aren’t eating well, and virtual tours with restaurant recommendations certainly aren’t going to help people resist temptation to overeat. But obesity does create major strains on the health care system, and we should encourage people to experiment with innovations that could help reduce medical costs.

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