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Can ‘body-hacking’ devices on scales, forks and armbands improve health?

THE WASHINGTON POST

Adherents call this “body hacking” or the “quantified self” movement, and at the Consumer Electronics Show, this year, it’s getting quite a boost. A wireless armband tracks the calories you burn and the length of time you sleep. A Wi-Fi enabled scale can check your body fat and heart rate. In perhaps the most buzzworthy unveiling of all, Hong Kong-based Hapilabs announced a “smart fork” that knows how fast you eat — and graphs that questionably useful data on a phone or Web-based dashboard.

The movement is hardly new, and plenty of apps have grown up around it already (RunKeeper, SleepCycle and MyFitnessPal come to mind). Since at least 2008, developers have tinkered with ways to track users’ calories, menstrual cycles and even sex lives.

But 2013 seems like a breakout year for the movement, at least according to people such as Arianna Huffington, who is scheduled to lead a CES panel on digital health. Thanks to tech advances and the growing ubiquity of smartphones, consumers can now track more metrics with more accuracy than ever before.

Consider BodyMedia’s CORE 2 armband, which claims to collect more than 5,000 data points a minute, including skin temperature, heat flux and motion. Not to be outdone, the new Smart Body Analyzer from Withings will measure not just weight and body fat, as older models did, but also heart rate, ambient temperature and carbon dioxide levels.

If that seems like overkill, just wait — it’s only the beginning. A Boston-based company recently developed postage stamp-size body sensors for monitoring hydration, insulin levels and sun exposure. And smart forks pale next to the Japanese smart toilet, which can analyze blood sugar and BMI, among other things.