Weight Loss Gadgets: They Provide Data To Help Consumers Reach Their Diet Goals, But It Still Won’t Be Easy


I felt a special kind of awe, then panic, seeing my glucose levels skyrocket for the first time after enjoying a cold beer on a sweltering summer evening. It was a biological push notification from the liquid just under my skin that the high carb drink was interfering with efforts to maintain my health and weight.

For years, people with type 1 diabetes have worn continuous glucometers, or CGMs, to track blood sugar spikes and make sure they’re getting enough insulin. CGMs are small patches with tiny sensor needles that prick the skin and are usually worn on the stomach or the back of the arm.

Now, a wave of tech companies are selling CGMs to the public. This made me curious: would this work for me? What would I learn?

The devices, linked to apps with personalized analytics and meal-planning advice, are touted as a behavioral change pathway to better health and athletic performance, consistent energy and overcoming the dreaded wasting cycle once and for all. of weight-weight gain.

For people without diabetes, tracking the glycemic response to meals can identify foods that dramatically raise blood sugar, leading to a subsequent drop in blood sugar and then lethargy. This excess insulin and blood glucose can also signal the body to store excess sugar, leading to weight gain.

The Lumen analyzes the breath to determine if the user is burning carbs or fat.(Lumen)

The new health monitoring ecosystem extends far beyond CGMs, leaving traditional step counters in the dust. A tracker in the form of a sleek titanium ring made by Ultrahuman monitors movement and sleep – and can be paired with a blood sugar monitoring patch. Whoop’s wearable technology, which tracks respiratory rate, blood oxygen and other health metrics, can be integrated into a sports bra. Another device, the Lumen, analyzes the breath to determine if the user is burning carbs or fat.

The market for this technology is huge, from Olympic athletes to office workers looking to avoid the post-lunch lull. The country has long been in the grip of what is often referred to as an obesity epidemic. From 2017 to 2021, an average of 26% of Americans said they were “seriously trying to lose weight” and more than half said they would like to, according to Gallup polls. And about 96 million American adults have prediabetes, which increases their risk of developing chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prediabetes affects both lean and overweight people, although obesity increases the risk of diabetes.

Investors take note. Nearly $3.5 billion was paid out to US digital health startups for weight loss from 2020 to the first half of 2022, according to an analysis by venture capital fund Rock Health for KHN. Startups CGM Levels, NutriSense, Signos and January have collectively raised more than $140 million in funding, according to funding database Crunchbase.

There is a lot of hype about all the data they provide.

Ads online and in podcasts often feature young active people in their 20s. They promise unique insights into how individual bodies respond to food, exercise, and sleep in real time with a focus on metabolic health and how users control their blood sugar. “We tackle weight loss by giving everyone a voice,” says CGM-based company Signos. A promo for Lumen shares, “You hold the secret to lasting weight loss in your lungs.”

But even though people on the ground have seen “significant” results from incorporating these tools into weight loss programs, they recognize that no single approach seems able to do it all. For example, Eric Kusher, a doctor of chiropractic who runs an intensive weight loss program at Compass Fat Loss, said he always relied on the human element, falling back on dietary advice from his staff, and no on the meal tips provided by apps.

The reality layer is also important, said Dr. Nirav Shah, principal investigator at Stanford University’s Center for Clinical Excellence Research. “If you’re a harassed mom trying to care for three kids and hold down a job, you won’t have time to oversee and create the perfect green shake,” he said. “You’re going to buy the dollar meal because it’s easier and cheaper for your kids – and then you’re going to eat what they don’t eat.”

For weight loss and flare-ups of inflammation, Sarah Schacht, a 42-year-old government innovation consultant from Seattle, has tried all kinds of health technologies, including Levels and Lumen. The generalized “eat less, move more” — misguided advice for many — wasn’t working for her. The Levels app allows the user to log meals, exercise, and other notable events; combines information with CGM data; then offers information and tips on how users can promote smoother glucose curves. Since starting Levels a year and a half ago, she has lost 5 pounds, her weight has stabilized, and inflammatory responses have diminished. But her body hasn’t changed drastically, she says.

“I feel like the few success stories I’ve seen, people who have changed their bodies dramatically, spend a lot of time on their eating strategy,” Schacht said. “Not everyone has that mental capacity, that time, or that budget.”

These devices are not covered by insurance, so with associated data subscriptions, costs can add up to hundreds of dollars per year. There is also little research on the effectiveness of CGMs in improving the health of people without diabetes, let alone weight loss. Without firm results, many healthcare providers are skeptical. Some experts also worry that the constant stream of data could cause eating disorders.

Dr Caroline Apovian, co-director of the Center for Weight Management and Wellness at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said she does not see the use of expensive CGM for someone who is not diabetic, especially with new weight-loss drugs. at hand. These drugs, of course, will also come at a high price.

“It’s hard work to lose 10 pounds,” Apovian said. “A CGM will wipe out your money so you can’t join a gym.”

Most people who have insulin resistance and metabolic disease tend to have lower incomes and minorities who can’t afford CGMs, said Logan Delgado, co-owner of BioCoach. BioCoach has obtained FDA clearance for its blood glucose and ketone meter, which checks glucose levels and tests for ketones in the blood – a sign that the body is burning fat for energy. Its more traditional finger-prick technology keeps the subscription price down to $30 a month while allowing people without diabetes to learn about their metabolic health, but not with continuous data. The company has amassed a large following on TikTok, where Delgado and others are raising awareness about sugary foods and diabetes.

CGM startups typically offer one of two CGMs: Abbott’s FreeStyle Libre, which is cheaper and requires manual sensor scanning by a smartphone, or the Bluetooth-connected Dexcom G6, which automatically updates to a smartphones. The monitors are provided to people without diabetes through “off-label” prescriptions, as the FDA has not yet approved the tools for the general population.

CGMs are available over-the-counter in Europe, so companies are betting that the FDA will approve them to be available on pharmacy shelves in the United States. This should bring down the prices of the sensors, which can cost hundreds of dollars.

But already January says it can use artificial intelligence to predict a person’s glucose levels after a user wears a CGM for two weeks. The algorithm, backed by published research and a library of food nutrition data, can then predict the person’s glycemic response to thousands of foods before the user decides what to eat, not after. This cuts costs, essentially creating a virtual CGM, said Noosheen Hashemi, CEO of January. The company is rolling out a new version of its app this fall.

Overall, startups are largely problem-solving, with some still conducting research to back up their marketed claims and taking different approaches to using technology. A common theme for startups, however, is to go directly to consumers first — aiming for people who can afford the concept — before eventually seeking coverage from insurers, said Bill Evans, founder and general partner. of Rock Health Capital.

The companies are also trying to add new twists to how their apps use data to achieve health and weight loss goals, each with libraries of informative blogs, lessons and activities. Their cost ranges from hundreds of dollars a year to more than a thousand, with fees covering the price of equipment, subscription to full services and, in some cases, the assistance of a nutritionist. Companies are betting on the idea that customers will commit for the long haul.

Taking a more holistic approach, NutriSense has leaned heavily on building an 80-person nutrition team that works closely with customers, according to Kara Collier, the company’s vice president of health.

Signos, which focuses on weight loss, uses artificial intelligence to set a “weight loss range” for customers based on their general blood sugar ranges and fitness level.

Out of curiosity, this reporter stuck a CGM on the back of her arm for 10 days and signed up for the Levels app. At first, the measurements were discordant. As someone without diabetes, I had never considered my blood sugar before.

Then I started to recognize patterns that made sense: Drinking beer always raised my blood sugar, but a bagel after a long morning walk kept my blood sugar relatively stable. Avocado toast or eggs for breakfast were better alternatives though. And a salad with chickpeas, tomatoes and turkey for lunch got top marks.

Digesting the data at every meal certainly made me think more about what I ate and when I exercised. But it also felt like a lot of extra homework.

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