HEALTH BITES

Fitness trackers may do more harm than good; possible link between herpes and autism

Scientists warn that health apps often have no scientific basis and could cause problems. In other news: genital herpes in pregnancy may increase autism risk, and a Hong Kong start-up offers easy healthy grocery shopping

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 February, 2017, 12:32pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 February, 2017, 12:31pm

Health apps could be doing more harm than good, warn scientists

Fitness trackers and mental health apps could be doing more harm than good because they are not based on sound science, researchers have warned, comparing some health app developers to “snake oil salesmen of the 1860s”. Greg Hager, professor of computer science at Johns Hopkins University, said that in the absence of trials or scientific grounding it was impossible to say whether apps were having the intended effect. “I am sure that these apps are causing problems,” he told the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Boston. Hager cited the one-size-fits-all targets provided by some fitness trackers, such as the Fitbit, which sets users a goal of taking 10,000 steps a day.

Hager claimed the 10,000 steps target dated back to a 1960s Japanese study that showed there were health benefits for men who burned at least 2,000 calories per week through exercise – roughly equivalent to 10,000 steps each day. An early pedometer was known as the manpo-kei, which means “10,000-step meter” in Japanese. “But is that the right number for any of you in this room?” Hager asked. “Who knows. It’s just a number that’s now built into the apps.”

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Genital herpes in pregnancy doubles autism risk: study

Women who are infected with genital herpes early in their pregnancy may face twice the risk of bearing a child with autism, according to a team of US and Norwegian researchers. The report in mSphere, a journal of the American Society for Microbiology , is the first to show that a woman’s immune response could have a harmful effect on the developing fetus’ brain and influence the likelihood of autism. “We believe the mother’s immune response to herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2) could be disrupting fetal central nervous system development, raising risk for autism,” says lead author Milada Mahic, a researcher at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. The causes of autism spectrum disorder remain poorly understood, and researchers believe it arises from some combination of genetic and environmental influences.

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HK start-up makes shopping easier – and healthier

A Hong Kong start-up is helping people eat healthier by providing information about groceries at supermarkets. Big-box retailers are notoriously bad at offering product information – supermarket apples are frequently picked six months before selling and imported vegetables can be more than a week old. With this in mind, Jou Sun, launched this month, aims to help consumers buy better food from a selection of more than 25 vendors. The start-up has pioneered a checkout process and delivery service that makes it possible to purchase fresh local pork from Hong Kong’s Fu Ying Butcher, organic free range eggs from Thailand’s Hilltribe Eggs and farm fresh vegetables from Qinyuan’s Magic Season Organics in a matter of minutes. Orders are delivered the next day.

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