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Ayre discovered that it’s often better to have some social distance from one’s referee. “I came across more than one user who had a significant other as a referee and the referee wimped out, colluding with the user in lying to StickK so as not to lose money.” One user, for example, entered into a contract to go to church every Sunday, which worked well for several months. But then something came up, and he had his referee—his girlfriend—lie to the site.

Ayres and others are also working on technological solutions that would prevent this type of deceit. It’s easy to imagine a smart-phone app that uses the phone’s positioning system to determine, for instance, whether someone goes to church.

A handful of such technologies are already on the market. A company called Withings sells a Wi-Fi-enabled scale that automatically uploads a user’s weight to his or her computer. For added accountability, the scale’s software can disperse that information via Twitter or other social networking sites, if the user chooses. Ayres himself uses the scale—check out his progress at @ianweight—and he is working with the company to incorporate it into StickK’s monitoring options. Withings has two more wireless monitoring products about to go on the market that will be revealed at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas later this week.

Rose says that a crucial aspect of health and other monitoring technologies is that they record and update automatically, rather than requiring the user to enter data or self-report behavior. People notoriously overestimate or lie about how often they take their medication, for example, which is why Rose’s company has developed a cap that fits onto an ordinary pill bottle, detects when someone opens the bottle to take a pill, and reports that data to a central hub. His company is also working on pedometers that automatically track and update activity levels.

The automatic aspect of the technology, Rose says, also helps keep people motivated. People using a device that requires them to manually upload data could just skip the process when they have been slacking on their exercise routine. Or stop stepping on the scale when they have been eating too many cookies.

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Credit: Withings

Tagged: Biomedicine, health, medical devices, obesity, diet, weight loss

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