Dead Man Walking? Smartphone Data May Predict Mortality Risk

Dead Man Walking? Smartphone Data May Predict Mortality Risk

Perhaps you’re out for a stroll in the neighborhood or browsing the aisles at a grocery store. Your smartphone could be with you on the trip as a podcast player, or digital security blanket.

What if your phone could use data from your daily cardio activities to predict how much time you’ll live?

Although there may not yet be an app, researchers at the University of Illinois have laid the foundation for such an app in a study recently published in the journal PLOS digital Health.

Bruce Schatz, PhD is a medical informatics expert at the University of Illinois. He was a coauthor of the study. “We decided to try to determine what walking motion could tell us that had medical significance.”

Schatz and his coworkers analyzed data from more than 100,000 adults aged 45-79, who are part of the UK Biobank. This is a biomedical database that exists in the United Kingdom. For a week, participants wore wrist sensors that tracked their movements. Researchers then reviewed data from 12-second intervals of walking for each participant.

Researchers used the walking intensity of participants to predict death risk over a five-year period.

Researchers were able to verify the accuracy of the estimates against death records because the data was collected between 2013 and 2015. Although the team’s predictions were close to participants’ actual mortality rates, the model was slightly more accurate in the earlier years than it was for the 5-year mark.

Schatz states, “It’sn’t giving you personally, ‘You only have 5 minutes to die,'” Schatz said. Instead, Schatz asks, “What is the likelihood that you will die in 5 years or 2 years?”

Larry Hernandez of San Antonio, Texas, is ready to test an app that can predict your death date. He is a 42-year-old private insurance advisor and believes such technology could be a motivator for his clients to exercise more.

Hernandez is comfortable with his own metrics. Hernandez has lost 60 pounds since he started a running program in 2015, and continues to run a 5K each day on his Apple Watch.

Hernandez said that Hernandez would be thrilled if “today’s or yesterday’s activities” gave him an extra year of life.

Stepping Toward Universal Health Care

Participants wore wrist devices with accelerometers. These sensors are found in even the most expensive smartphones. Schatz states that these motion sensors are crucial to make health information more accessible to all.

Smartwatches, and other wearable fitness trackers, are growing in popularity but they aren’t always affordable. According to a 2019 Pew Research Center survey, about 1 in 5 Americans regularly wear them. According to Pew, 97% and 85% of Americans have a smartphone respectively.

Schatz’s formula has many practical applications. For example, a hospital system could monitor all its patients simultaneously using their smartphones and alert them to any changes in their walking patterns. This would be done without disrupting the patients’ lives.

“It’s not the population screening that is significant. Schatz says it’s about catching problems early while you still have the ability to do something. Schatz says, “There is a real chance here to do something that will benefit large numbers of people.”

Vienna Williams, MPH sees an opportunity to help employers. She is the director of the International WELL Building Institute, New York City. This institute helps companies like Uber and Hilton prioritize employee well-being.

Williams says that wearables and sensors help us understand modifiable behaviors and where we have the chance to intervene. Williams also mentions that the institute uses such technology to assist clients in understanding employee health trends. These things can help us to answer the most important question: Where are we able to make changes in our behavior that will benefit our long-term health?

A smartphone app that predicts death’s likelihood could help reduce health disparities by being available to all people with smartphones, regardless of their socioeconomic status. According to a 2018 Pew Research Center survey, 45% of smartphone owners are from emerging countries like Brazil and Indonesia.

Jan Carney MD, associate dean of public health at the University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine, Burlington, states that “the benefits of being physically active cannot be denied.” “But, the rates of physical activity in the population are not uniform.”

Carney states that Schatz’s and his colleagues’ work contributes to health equity.

She says, “By making such a simple and practical technology, you can make a lot of people in a community know their activity levels.”

Schatz believes future studies should be more diverse in terms of race and ethnicity. The majority of the study participants were not representative of the U.K., however. Schatz’s research team will continue their work through the National Institutes of Health All of Us Research Program. This program aims to enroll over 1 million people.

This post was written by Darryl Johnson, Co-Owner of Apex performance. At Apex performance we are a community of highly trained experts looking to provide performance enhancement and a permanent lifestyle change for our clients in a fun and interactive environment. Members can take advantage of boxing classes in Tampa, small group classes and specialized courses for a wide variety of athletics, sports training and body goals!


Jacques Bedard