The Digital Skeptic: Health Tech Gets Ready to Be America's Biggest Loser
NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- It took sharing a fabulous and fatty meal with one of America's "Biggest Losers" for me to learn what it takes to make real changes in one's health.
"I'm a food addict, and I know it," Hannah Curlee told me over a way-marvelous, way-rich, Las Vegas steak frites dinner. "When I look at this plate, I know I can have only two bites of steak. And no fries -- too much salt. But the broccoli? That I can eat all day long."
The producers of NBC's absurdly popular weight-loss reality show -- The Biggest Loser -- recruited Curlee back in 2011. She along with her sister Olivia Ward, dropped a combined 249 pounds.
The team took down first and second place -- and a cool quarter-million first prize for Ward.
But it's Curlee's day job that makes her investor-worthy. She's a human resources professional for a health care company she asked me not to name. And she was refreshingly blunt about what works -- and what doesn't -- in keeping off the 129 pounds she lost.
"I really believe in the tools that I used," she said. Along with Jillian Michaels yelling at her eight hours a day, she wore an exercise management gizmo called BodyMedia -- a device that captures her body's metabolism and food consumption in minute detail.
"But at the end of the day it is the person inside that has to take responsibility for their own health," she said.
Her hard-won wisdom, it turns out, is lost on dozens of emerging ehealth-care technology companies, all angling to get paid to help people do what Curlee has done.
"We are seeing an explosion of consumer-aimed health care technologies and services," Michael Yang, managing partner at Philadelphia-based Comcast Ventures , told me. Yang should know. He has led a $12 million funding round for BodyMedia -- which, for the record, is a major sponsor of The Biggest Loser though Curlee says she does not get direct sponsorship from the firm.
Yang was clear that a dangerous bubble is lurking in the growing ehealth-care market.
"It cannot end well for every single one of these companies," he said.
Going on ehealth-care alert
It doesn't take a complex algo to see what worries Yang. There is a virtual hospital wing filled with ehealth companies looking to turn personal health data into a digital-age experience.
These mostly privately held firms seek to leverage the newly cheap GPS chips, accelerometers and other sensors to capture heart rates, exercise patterns, skin perspiration and other human data. They then present all these gobs of information to consumers, usually on the Web and mobile devices.
"We sell an integrated body-measuring system that sits on the wrist or shoulder starting at $119," says Ivo Stivoric, BodyMedia's CTO. "Users access their data and set goals from the website for $6.95 a month."