Apple’s ResearchKit wants your health data

But logging cardiac information might raise your blood pressure

STEPPING OUT Smartphone users can submit health and activity data for scientific research using a new series of apps that are designed for use with Apple’s ResearchKit. 


With its hugely popular iPhone and new software called ResearchKit, Apple thinks it may have solved a major research problem: how to recruit enough people to make associations between lifestyle and health. But with at least one of the apps associated with ResearchKit, contributing data is a lot of work.

ResearchKit offers five health studies, each with a free app. I gave the cardiovascular disease risk app MyHeart Counts, run by Stanford University, a whirl. To address concerns about data privacy, the app has its own pass code. It also allows participants to choose between sharing data only with Stanford or more widely.

Participants send their physical activity and sleep time to the app for seven days every three months. During that week, participants need

SLOW GOING My activity monitor correctly recorded a very sedentary lifestyle. However, my iPhone also missed many of my moderate and vigorous activities. MyHeart Counts
to keep their smartwatches on their wrists or their iPhones in their front pants pockets, a challenge for people like me, as my clothing lacks large pockets.

The app keeps track of step count and activity level. Unfortunately, my iPhone 5s undercounted my steps. Moderate or vigorous activity seemed not to register at all. The app offers a chance to add missed workouts later.

Though MyHeart Counts is free, using it can be costly. The app recommends users take one six-minute short walk wearing a heart rate monitor, a not-inexpensive gadget. Users also need to get their blood pressure and cholesterol levels measured, which may be inconvenient or expensive.

Without cholesterol, the app can’t calculate the user’s risk of heart attack or stroke. While contributing data to MyHeart Counts might be a service to science, it takes a lot of work with little individual return.

Bethany was previously the staff writer at Science News for Students. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology from Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

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