Are apps making us unhealthily thin?

I’m sure it’s nothing new that advances in our abilities get the blame for all of the ills of the day.

On almost a weekly basis someone approaches me asking for advice on how to stop people talking about them on a Facebook ‘rant site’, someone else asks me how we can turn off the Twitter and another approaches me for advice on getting some compliment or other off the Internet so that they can share it with people.

They might be upset at the former two and happy at the last, but if you asked them straight out what they thought of social media then you’d almost always hear something negative. The people posting complaints on social media are usually time wasters, need something better to do or should be headed out to the shops to get a life according to the people they have criticised. Some people even think they should be banned.

Now, perhaps that’s true. Perhaps most of the complaints on the Internet are being written by people sat in the dark wearing slightly off-white y-fronts and sipping from a fresh can of diet coke, but thinking that way makes it too easy to ignore the underlying problem that no-one complains unless you’ve given them a reason.

My day job is to convince businesses and people to  calm down their gut reactions enough to ignore where the comments came from and get on with solving the problem.

So I was interested to hear a feature on Weekend Women’s Hour yesterday (what?!) while I was driving back from experiencing Bicester Village for the first time, looking at the ‘hidden dangers’ of fitness apps. It got me thinking: do apps cause problems, or do apps simply reveal them?

This is probably something we should be discussing as monitoring equipment for everything from how active we are to our blood oxygen level is increasingly being monitored and recorded by the devices around us and even more so as companies like Apple bring out devices that make recording your blood oxygen level a mainstream activity.

The argument on the programme was that fitness apps ask users to specify a current weight, a target weight and a time limit and get given a number of calories per day to aim for regardless of how healthy that weight or the journey to get there might be.

To lay the blame for these problems at the door of the app developers is disingenuous, intentionally or not.

No doubt, displaying a simple number and using maths to solve a problem is just a logical way of doing things for the programmers behind the apps, but according to those opposed it’s a logic that can make a relationship with food less emotional than it should be and, experts say, that can lead to problems and obsessions. And there’s no doubt that they’re right, but I think it’s concerning to hear apps getting the blame.

I’ve had problems with my weight before – I spent a lot of my early teenage life hoping that I could just bloody gain some – but when I’ve played around with the most popular of the apps my fascination with hitting the magic calorie number has lasted for, at most, about three days.

My experience was more that I found it laborious to enter the details of what I’d eaten and disappointing to find that even without picking up anything remotely sweet I’d exceeded my RDA of sugar. I know my friends and a couple of people I’ve lived with had a similar experience too. At best entering my life into an app had a quick-wearing shine, but it’s easy to see how for someone with a pre-existing problem that might not be the case.

I think to lay the blame for these problems at the door of the app developers is disingenuous, intentionally or not, and ultimately just distracting from the real challenge that we have to fix perceptions of body image, to fix the problems we have with food advertising and to a certain extent to fix parenting too.

Like blaming social media and people ‘who need to get a life’ for complaints about your shop being too cold on Facebook it’s easy to look at social media, or an app, or the Internet and blame it for any ill that can be found, but wouldn’t it be more productive to find out how to change the thermostat?

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