- Years of wearing Apple Watches and Fitbits have made me obsessed with hitting my exercise goals.
- But Amazon’s Halo felt like the first time a gadget was evaluating me, instead of encouraging me.
- It made me question my health more than anything I tried, and it even made me feel hopeless.
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While I was in my bedroom in a sports bra and bikini bottom, the voice coming from my smartphone told me to turn left and sit for a while.
Using my phone’s camera, Amazon’s Halo The app did a scan to estimate my body fat percentage. All I could think about was how excited I was to delete the photos.
I felt the slight familiarity pang of anxiety that comes with stepping on the ladder while I waited for the app to complete its calculations. I knew I wouldn’t love the number I saw, but I also didn’t expect the number to be as bad as I expected.
I couldn’t be more wrong.
According to Amazon calculations, my body fat percentage is significantly higher than what is considered a healthy range for a woman of my age and size – about 10 percentage points, to be exact.
For some people, having a vision of their health and activity can be beneficial in encouraging exercise and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. But for me, wearable devices have also deformed how I look, and changed my definition of what it means to be productive. And nowhere was it more true than with Halo.
Fitness track devices have given me another reason to fix my weight
I’ve been reviewing tech gadgets for about eight years now, and I’ve started to focus more on fitness trackers and smartwatches since the launch of the Apple Watch in 2015. That means I’ve measured metrics like my steps, burn calories, workouts, and general activities fairly regularly for at least the last six years.
Gadgets like the Apple Watch, Fitbit smartwatches, and even the Amazon Halo have been great motivational tools to exercise regularly. During the pandemic, they helped me build exercise routines to meet the challenge of staying fit during the pandemic – a time when I was largely sedentary and ordered more often.
But at the same time, fitness trackers have also reinforced the fixation I’ve had on my weight since I was a teenager. Even in high school, when I was at the leanest, I had the pressure to justify any junk food with a workout. “Okay if we order pizza, it only works when I get home,” was a constant return – my friends heard it so often that they started teasing me.
Fifteen years later, my watch tells me exactly how much time I spent exercising and how many calories I burned. If I feel like I’ve had a “bad weekend” when it comes to eating, I’ll turn to my Apple Watch for justification. Eating that extra slice of pizza tonight isn’t so bad if I close all my Activity Rings tomorrow, right?
However, today’s fitness trackers can do so much more than just log workouts and measure calories burned. Advances in sensors, artificial intelligence algorithms and energy efficiency have allowed us to squeeze a lot of health tracking technology into slim bracelets and our phones. This means that there is much more detailed data on my body for me to fix.
Enter Amazon Halo.
The Amazon Halo made me confront my body in a way that I wasn’t ready for
What sets Amazon Halo apart is its ability to use your phone’s camera with automatic learning and computer vision to calculate the percentage of body fat.
Devices like the Halo are not intended for medical diagnosis. But the feedback from Amazon Halo gave me the impression that a laptop was judging me for the first time, instead of encouraging me to develop healthier habits.
The whole process of taking a scan of the body feels a bit dystopian. First, you need to change into minimal clothes and install the camera on your smartphone so that you can capture your entire body.
Amazon will ask you to rotate it so that the camera can see your body from different angles, and within seconds its algorithms will generate a 3D image. The system analyzes regions that are known as “hot spots” for fat, such as the thighs and torso. Amazon says their technology is designed to understand the relationship between how a person looks in an image and body composition, including how muscle and fat are distributed.
According to Amazon’s algorithms, the percentage of body fat is high. Underneath the results, there’s a sliding scale that allows you to see how your body will change as your fat percentage increases or decreases.
Seeing my body scan motivated me to definitely go for a salad instead of a sandwich for lunch. But it also felt incredibly daunting. I’m not even close to the range that is considered healthy, so I couldn’t stand eating a salad and doing a run wouldn’t make a difference.
Amazon says its technology is almost twice as accurate as cutting-edge smart scales, and the American Heart Association has approved Halo on Amazon press release.
But calculating the percentage of body fat based solely on vision is limiting since it cannot measure fat in our organs, says Drs. In addition, a person’s appearance can fluctuate based on factors such as water intake, a recent meal and menstrual cycles.
In the New York Times he also found that Amazon Halo’s results were often higher than body fat readings than other tools he used. A reporter shared his Halo data with Dr. Lawrence Cheskin, founder of the Johns Hopkins Center for Weight Management, who said the results looked high for a person his age with his body mass index.
Readings from devices like Amazon Halo should be used to keep an eye on your personal progress, but not to make any medical decisions, says Lofton.
“I would only pay attention to how you use the information if it is going to affect your life or your health,” he said.
My view of fitness trackers begins to change as technology becomes more advanced
Fitness trackers have quantified my vision of food as rewarding and exercising as needed. Mini-accomplishments like closing my Activity Rings make me feel like I’m in control of my weight and appearance, even if I don’t see the results. The Apple Watch says I’ve had a great week of training, so it should be true.
Ma u Apple Watch I don’t see what I think. I don’t know if my favorite dress is starting to tighten, or that I can’t find a swimsuit that fits the right way. That’s what makes the Aalo feel so playful; he saw me in my underwear, and just told me I wasn’t looking the way I should. It feels more intimidating than motivating. (I was afraid to take another scan for the purposes of this story).
Amazon’s Halo is emblematic of what has become the next major step forward for health monitoring in consumer technology devices. Smartwatches, fitness bands, and other gadgets are now capable of much more than simple activities of recording and analyzing trends in that data. Now, we make judgments about our overall health and well-being.
If it’s the future of health monitoring, I might choose to stay behind.