It’s not just about how many steps you’ve taken or how many calories you’ve burnt in a day. Wearable fitness trackers and health monitors are becoming more commonplace and diverse, but just what do you do with all that data?

“We have a lot of people buy wearables and then stop using them," says Paul Landau, president of Fitbug, a British maker of fitness trackers. Landau attended the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, US, last week, promoting a series of 12-week fitness coaching programmes that offer detailed and custom recommendations for getting in shape. “If you want to help people," says Landau, “they’ve got to have more than just self-tracking."

Health monitors aren’t just for fitness buffs. Start-ups and big technology companies at the gadget show promoted all kinds of uses for the data generated by wearable sensors—from mindfulness exercises to figuring out the best time to get pregnant. Other companies aim to offer value by aggregating data from different sources, so it can be viewed and interpreted together. That could be useful, but it raises privacy concerns.

“A lot of wearables today are just throwing numbers at people. We’re looking to synthesize that data and turn it into an experience," says Jason Fass of Zepp Labs, a Silicon Valley start-up that makes a tiny, wearable motion sensor for tennis, baseball and golf enthusiasts.

Zepp has been selling sensors for a year, Fass said in an interview at CES, but he’s hoping weekend athletes will see more value in Zepp’s new smartphone app. It shows users an animated analysis of their swing, and lets them compare their moves with videos of professional athletes.

The trend goes beyond sports. A Canadian start-up called InteraXon displayed a headset that can measure brain activity, by tracking electrical impulses. It connects to an app that provides mental exercises to relax or focus the mind, but founder Ariel Garten predicts the technology might be integrated with other services in future—to automatically adjust a wearer’s iTunes playlist, for example.

Other exhibitors showed wearable motion sensors designed for the elderly person who lives alone, keeping a record of daily activity and sending an alert to family members if, for example, the wearer falls, or isn’t following his or her usual pattern.

Colorado-based Prima-Temp introduced a cervical ring containing an electronic sensor that’s designed to track a woman’s internal body temperature. It can send a smartphone alert to the woman—and her partner—when it’s her optimum time to conceive a child.

The Gartner research firm estimates more than 70 million such devices—typically a wristband that measures things like heart rate, breathing and movement—were sold worldwide last year. And that doesn’t count more sophisticated wearables that can measure body temperature, glucose levels or other health indicators.

But as the novelty of these devices wears off, says Consumer Electronics Association’s chief economist Shawn DuBravac, consumers will become less interested in “what technologically can be done" and more focused on “what’s technologically meaningful".

Apple Inc. and Google Inc. have developed mobile device software that can gather health and fitness data from wearables and other sources, displaying it in ways that are easy for consumers and their doctors to interpret. Samsung and BlackBerry are also working on software to collect medical data.

Silicon Valley start-up Bellabeat makes devices aimed at women, including a wearable activity tracker that looks like jewellery, a weight-scale and a fetal heartbeat monitor for pregnancy. These are designed to send information to a single smartphone app, “where you can see how your data is connected", says co-founder Urska Srsen.

“The future is going to be one where all your information is going to be in one place," says WebMD chief executive officer David Schlanger.

Scientists from a South African company, LifeQ, were making the rounds at CES to promote their notion of using sophisticated algorithms to analyse data from a variety of wearable devices. LifeQ founder Riaan Conradie says his company can use “bio-mathematical modelling" to make meaningful health predictions, such as whether a person is at risk of a heart attack.

Consumer advocates worry the information could be used by insurance companies to deny coverage or raise rates.

Prima-Temp’s Costantini says the information her company gathers on body temperatures and fertility might someday be analysed for broader medical insights. But she says identities will always be shielded and all data is stored in compliance with federal confidentiality rules for health records.

Companies that collect health information can’t operate in the same way as others, says Samsung Electronics president Young Sohn. “We can’t just share that information like the marketing data you might get out of some e-commerce application."

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