CBS News: Diet and fitness apps are dominating the market – but who has access to your health data?


More than 80 percent of dieters are forgoing help from nutritionists and trainers in favor of do-it-yourself options like diet and fitness apps, according to a market data report. The demand for these apps has created a growing industry of devices and trackers designed to help you meet your fitness goals — but they can also give anyone with access to the data a detailed picture of your health.

When Courtney Berentsen wants to watch her weight, making a nutritious breakfast includes an extra step: tracking her food with the calorie counting app MyNetDiary.

“I probably could have achieved the same goals just from keeping, like, a food diary, but I didn’t want to. I wanted something that was easier than a food diary,” Berentsen told “CBS This Morning Saturday” co-host Dana Jacobson, emphasizing the app’s built-in barcode scanner that reads and logs prepared foods.

Whether you’re trying to lose weight or get toned, there’s an app for that — and results are promising. A recent study from the Duke Global Digital Health Science Center showed that participants lost five pounds in three months by using the popular app MyFitnessPal.

“We like to say in the weight loss world, if you use more, you lose more,” said Gary Bennett, director of the Duke center. “And the key challenge for any digital health app is how often and how long people will use it.”

Often, these apps can incorporate data from fitness trackers and other smart devices. CNET created a wellness lab to field test some of the new technology – and Executive Editor Sharon Profis gave “CBS This Morning” a tour, showing off a Naked mirror that provides a 3-D scan of your body and a pair of gloves that track your workout.  

“Right now a lot of the wearables and apps are really centered around losing weight, or getting fit,” Profis said. “But we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface on health or medically driven needs.”  

While these apps have yet to reach their full potential, Bennett says there are already risks to consider. His greatest concern, he said, is “whether these data can be used to make judgments about the kinds of treatments and programs we have access to– whether we can get insurance, how much we’re charged for insurance. We can use health data to learn a lot about a person.”

“What’s happening to the data: How are they being used? How long are they being stored? To whom are they being sold? Those are really important questions for consumers to ask,” Bennett added.  

When it comes to protecting your health data, Bennett recommends leaving out information or even changing personal details like your age when using apps. But he admits even those measures may not be sufficient to mask your identity.