Fitbit is aiming to expand its healthcare initiative by building the world’s largest database of women’s health through a new ecosystem of smartwatch apps that track women’s menstrual cycles and compare that data to exercise and sleep patterns.
In a presentation announcing the new female health tracking initiative, which will be available on the Fitbit Ionic and newly-unveiled Fitbit Versa smartwatch this spring, Fitbit advisor Katharine White said this will represent the largest scale compilation of data from healthy women.
It allows women to log their menstrual cycle, record symptoms and compare results over time against their health and fitness data, while giving them tips to optimize their health and life planning (by giving women updates about the fertility window in which they’re most likely to become pregnant).
“There’s an amazing dearth of information about a healthy woman’s menstrual cycle. And this is because scientists tend to study diagnoses and diseases. It’s really hard to get a grant to study what’s normal,” said White, a Boston University assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology. “All of this data coming in from Fitibit’s global community of users is going to allow us to examine some of these relationships at a massive scale that we’ve never been able to do before.”
The new initiatives in women’s health come as the company works to build the world’s largest crowdsourced depository of health data by leveraging its 25.4 million active users. By tracking all of this data over long periods of times and comparing them with a user’s baseline, Fitbit is beginning to detect irregularities that might put people at risk of conditions such as sleep apnea, atrial fibrillation or diabetes.
“Looking forward we’re looking to evolve,” said Fitbit CEO James Park at a presentation this week. “We’re going to continue to help consumers manage their weight, get more active and fit, sleep better and reduce their stress. But we’re also going to help people manage more serious health conditions.”
Fitbit has already amassed one of the largest databases of biometric data in the world with 116 billion hours of heart rate data, 6.5 billion nights of sleep, 102 trillion steps and 213 billion minutes of exercise tracked over the past decade.
Its devices and data depositories have been used in more than 500 published research studies, and Fitbit continues to actively expand into other areas of research through partnerships, such as its participation in an expansive federal study of American health led by the Scripps Research Institute. Last fall, it teamed up with diabetes platform One Drop to help diabetes patients manage the relationship between exercise and blood glucose levels.
Park says the company is now developing algorithms to detect health conditions and looking to pioneer the use of digital therapeutics, which is a growing movement that entrepreneurs are targeting that leans on software and data analytics to preemptively detect and treat disease beyond traditional medicine.
“This hierarchy of insights is where we’re going as a company as we use the data that we’ve developed over the last few years,” said Fitbit Director of Research Conor Heneghan.
Fitbit hopes that all of the various aspects of a person’s health that it’s now tracking will enable it to unlock a new era of hyper-individualized healthcare. Its software, for example, will even track a person’s mood (a feature launched in December), which can be compared against, say, a woman’s menstrual cycle and give insight into how that’s affecting her sleep and mental health.
While other apps already offer menstrual and exercise tracking (Orreco last June launched FitrWoman app through a partnership with IBM Corp. that enables a woman to maximize athletic training during their menstrual cycle), Fitbit says its edge is in the scale of its user base.
“We see a great opportunity to bring more women into the smartwatch category (now about 60% male),” said Melanie Chase, Fitbit’s vice president of product marketing. “We also see a huge opportunity to bring our trackers users up, to upgrade them to the smartwatch form factor.”
To that end, Fitbit also announced on Tuesday (alongside the new Fitbit Versa that will retail at $199.95) its first-ever tracker for kids.
The Fitbit Ace device, priced at $99.95 and designed for children age 8+, tracks activity and sleep and gives parents access to that data. It also gamifies the experience by letting children earn badges and compete in challenges with friends and family.