THE BLOG
10/22/2013 11:55 am ET Updated Dec 21, 2013

The Risky Business of Managing Your Health

It's a scene from Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities 2.0. A "Master of the Universe" (MOTU) -- say, a newly-minted CxO in a Fortune 100 company or hedge fund executive, completes a life insurance application form for a $25 million key-man policy. The insurer's medical examiner comes to meet with the executive atop the Manhattan skyscraper's office with a view. Blood is drawn, a weight scale lain on the floor, and Q&A on family health history and lifestyle ensues.

The actuaries gather the data to crunch the numbers: blood tests analyzed, lifestyle scrutinized, biometrics on weight, blood pressure and sleep mashed into the MOTU's personal health data story.

A week later, the MOTU receives the actuaries' verdict: the executive can be covered for $2 million, but no way do his numbers justify the risk the insurance company would take on for $25 million.

In a nutshell: MOTU isn't going to live a long life, so he's a bad risk. The actuaries say he needs a CPAP machine to manage his sleep apnea, should drop 40 pounds to lower his BMI, should lower his high blood pressure and cholesterol and decrease his drinking -- he indulges in too much alcohol when he's away from home on business travel.

While MOTU is one heck of a talented risk manager at work, strategizing his company's competitive risks and scenario planning the future price of commodities, he's not risk managing the one thing over which he has much more control: his health.

For MOTU, managing his health is a risky business akin to compromising his personal health FICO score (or "PHICO" score? Personal Health Involvement, Control and Outcome?).

MOTU is certainly tethered to his mobile phone and tablet for managing his business life, like the rest of us. He could use the same platforms 24/x7 to help him manage the risky business of personal health and make more mindful decisions, tools available to most everyone with a smartphone.

Sleep. Sleep is the new luxury good. No one these days seems to be getting enough of it. This week, we learned that sleep helps clean out the "gunk" in our brains (with "gunk" being used by the researchers who wrote this peer reviewed article in Science). MOTU can wear a non-obtrusive sleep monitoring device to track sleep and get clues from his data about what might trigger a bad night's sleep: eating dinner too late in the evening, or drinking a pot of green tea in the late afternoon (which has caffeine, unbeknownst to MOTU).

Weight. If MOTU loses weight, he may avoid the need for a CPAP machine. He can download and use one of many popular calorie-tracking apps available for all mobile phone platforms. MOTU might also benefit from a social support weight-loss program. As he's a sports fan, he may trust Charles Barkley's endorsement for Weight Watchers. He can also track his steps with that sleep device he's already using at night, and at the same time monitor his...

Blood pressure. The Withings PULSE device tracks activity and heart function, making it a self-tracking device that measures more than simple steps via an accelerometer. People tracking their own blood pressure has been proven to help people better manage their hypertension.

High cholesterol. His doctor might prescribe a statin to manage hypercholesterolemia, but there are other self-health strategies MOTU can adopt to help lower his bad cholesterol level. A simple and healthy DIY strategy to reduce fat intake by lowering consumption of egg yolks, butter, full-fat dairy products and fatty meats would be recommended, especially when coupled with using a cholesterol-tracking app like Cholesterol Food Reference, Cholesterol Tracker or Cholesterol Manager, among many others.

Alcohol consumption. MOTU likes to imbibe alcohol on long airplane rides, in London on post-dinner port and in Paris, cognac. But these empty calories add up and compromise both MOTU's optimal business performance and health. While there is no proof that mobile apps help people curb their desire for drink, MOTU can work to develop his gumption to just say no by using NHS Choices Track Your Drinking tool (which helps people which helps you calculate just how much you've drunk), or the Drink Tracker blood-alcohol content calculator.

People who consider themselves members of the Quantified Self movement are MOTUs when it comes to tracking their daily lives empowered by, as the QS tagline says, "self-knowledge through numbers." People "quantify," or self-track, all sorts of observations of daily living, well beyond calories, exercise and sleep patterns. There's a growing roster of sensors capable of managing functions, literally from head to toe, as this graphic on the QS website illustrates. This level of self-quantification is enabled through the "Internet of Things."

That approach might be a bit hardcore for MOTU. For more mainstream folks in the middle of the statistical normal curve, it may be useful to consider the term the "wantified self" coined by Pritpal Tamber, founder of Wellthcare and Clinical Editor of TEDMED. Pritpal quotes his fellow Wellthcare colleague Kingshuk Das who tweeted that, "We need to change the focus from 'health and wellness' to what folks are actually trying to do in their lives."

So what are we trying to do in our lives, anyway? Some of us want to play on the floor with our kids and not struggle to get up with knees that don't flex very well. You might want to take that long-envisioned trip to Greece and scale the craggy landscape with full vigor, phone camera in hand. Your aunt's goal? Live well into her 90s and paint like Grandma Moses, young in brain age and facile with a paintbrush.

The economist in me recognizes that this is demand-side health as Pritpal coined the wantified self, determined by "us" -- not supply-side health as defined by doctors, the health system or an insurance company.

We are all MOTUs in our own lives. Let's act like it when it comes to our health.

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