Sarmishta Neogy, a fitness enthusiast from Delhi, uses the HealthifyMe app to log and track her calorie intake. Neogy recently upgraded from the company’s free service to a paid tier, which gives her access to an artificial intelligence (AI)-based assistant called Ria.
However, Neogy says she still uses the app mostly for their recipes, tips and to document food. She found the AI’s tips generic and not very helpful. “The Ria service is very basic, so I don’t know if I will benefit from it. For instance, if you ask Ria what is missing from my diet, it will tell you what is missing but nothing more," she added.
While HealthifyMe is not a new service, the company has been pushing the new AI assistant to its users. HealthifyMe isn’t the only service to do that either. Apps such as Aaptiv and FitnessAI are also using artificial intelligence for various aspects of health training and fitness.
But algorithm-based workout and fitness plans may not work for everyone, according to both experts and users. Like HealthifyMe, the idea here is to utilize data acquired from users’ and experts’ experience to build an algorithm that can be easily accessible.
“There’s no one-size-fits-all," said Ishi Khosla, practising nutritionist and author of Eating At Work. Khosla is behind Theweightmonitor.com, an algorithm-based service that utilizes her first-hand experience as a nutritionist, besides users’ data. “One cannot oversimplify and say this is the only way to go. But they certainly create awareness and a certain sense of mindfulness."
Khosla said algorithms alone aren’t the answer, but a combination of algorithms and human support can be useful. She pointed out that people might need customized guidance, based on their specific needs and requirements. She likened the algorithms to clothing sizes. There are predefined sizes in the market, but some still need customized clothing for themselves.
Dr. Deep Goel, senior consultant and director of bariatric and advance laparoscopy surgery, BLK Super Speciality Hospital, agreed. Apps and algorithms are like alarm systems, he said, adding that just like alarms help you wake up, these algorithms and apps “are like reminding diaries".
When it comes to nutrition and fitness, generic information doesn’t benefit everyone. Khosla’s WeightMonitor allows users to call nutritionists when they need real-time advice on what they should eat.
Doctors like Goel believe while it is possible to tailor nutrition charts based on people’s data, it’s not necessarily accurate. Goel said a lot of data is required to diagnose and decide what kind of diet a person should follow. This data may not be available at the moment, since most apps have just taken the algorithmic route.
Therefore, users should use these algorithms and apps as informational tools, rather than things they are completely dependent on.
“How do you check whether the recommendations are correct?" asked Dr Bharat Agarwal, consultant of internal medicine, Apollo Hospitals, Navi Mumbai.
The outreach for making algorithmic services will be much larger, Agarwal said.
Correlating all the user data, and coming up with plans and recommendations that actually benefit a user, will take longer. Agarwal said the apps can be useful for those who don’t have any medical conditions, but for those who do, a professional is always recommended.
Experts expect that it will take at least a couple of years for algorithmic services to be truly dependable. There is no way to quantify how much efficiency a consumer is deriving from them at the moment and. given that most are paid services, it’s important to know exactly what you are paying for.