Personal tracking devices have become enormously popular in recent years. They typically use the same radio-frequency signal-sending technology as cell phones and other wireless devices. While the safety of cell phone use has been called into question, so far I’ve seen no research identifying health risks stemming from wearing or carrying personal tracking devices. When this subject came up on the Wearable Technology website in 2012, Will Whittow, a researcher from England’s Loughborough University, said that the signals from wearable devices operate on power levels that are roughly 1/1000th of that of a mobile phone and send signals over very short distances, from one part of the body to another. But he noted that it is impossible to prove categorically that exposure to the low-level electromagnetic fields is perfectly safe.
It is important to note that Wearable Technologies describes itself as a market development platform for wearable electronic devices and would therefore have an interest in emphasizing the safety of the products it promotes.
In 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organization, classified the radio frequency electromagnetic fields from cell phones as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” This designation stemmed from a review of available research including some not yet published, by a working group of 31 scientists from 14 countries. They found “limited evidence” of a link between cell phone usage and glioma, a type of malignant brain tumor. While the group saw the connection as “credible,” it could not rule out that “chance, bias or confounding” could be responsible for the finding. When I searched the medical literature for risks posed by wearable electronic devices, I found no scientific studies on the subject.
Incidentally, wearable devices are being used more and more in medicine to monitor the vital signs of people with chronic heart disorders as well as to track older adults with memory problems so they can be found if they wander away from home or care facilities.
My main objection to the use of wearable devices for fitness or weight loss purposes is that they have the potential for generating anxiety, particularly among people with eating disorders and those prone to exercising excessively. On the positive side, anything that helps motivate inactive people to get up and move – and meet realistic goals aimed at enhancing health – would certainly be worthwhile.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
“Wearable Technology – Is It Safe?” Wearable Technologies,
accessed April 23, 2015, http://www.wearable-technologies.com/2012/06/271