Tracking for Health: Detailed Demographics

In response to popular demand, my Pew Research colleagues and I posted detailed demographic tables for the “Tracking for Health” study.

I should warn you: These are not pretty tables. You may need a ruler to keep track of the rows and columns since we crammed as much data into each table as possible. But I think they will be useful and that, to me, is a high compliment (right after “thoughtful” — that’s the best).

For example, click open this one:

Detailed demographic breakdowns for responses to health tracking questions

I think it’s intriguing to look at some of the patterns — women are more likely than men to track health data on paper (40% vs. 28%). You can tell that is a statistically significant difference because there is a tiny “a” next to the 40. Another interesting finding: Young adults are significantly more likely than older adults to have an app to help them track their health (16% of 18-29 year-old trackers, compared with 3% of 50-64 year-old trackers). Notice there are no statistically significant differences (and therefore no superscript letters) in the race and ethnicity findings.

Here’s another table:

Detailed demographics for those who share their health data with others

My colleague Maeve Duggan pointed out that men are more likely than women to share their data with their spouse or partner (30% vs. 16%). We wondered if it is because women are less likely to share their current weight?

Please dig in to all the tables and let us know what you think!

8 thoughts on “Tracking for Health: Detailed Demographics

  1. I’m getting some great reactions on Twitter — just capturing them here for posterity:

    From Natasha, aka @heronunderwater:

    “nerdy electronic graphs all the way for me, just finished updating my peak flow charts for visit to pulmo tomorrow!”

    From Kathi Apostolidis ‏@kgapo:

    “curious what such a [EU] study would show! tracking in many countries here is considered unreasonable, something only doctors do”

  2. Around 1998, I started keeping track on an excel sheet of various blood test results first to check if they were getting any better, secondly because more than one oncologist would say that blood tests for cancer indexes were just not useful because they would show normal values even with active disease. I searched the internet (I had pc+internet access already in 1990) and found that what is important is the variation in values of the cancer indexes and not just one value per se. So I got out tests results from past years put them on a diagram and showed them to my doctor.
    He opened wide his eyes: what’s this? who has done it? I explained that I had made the diagram after I had read an article about the need to have a series of values for a cancer index to interpret it and asked him about his opinion. He expected me to mention a hard copy venerable medical journal but when I told him that I had researched the internet and found this article from researchers of a well known American university, he immediately burst out: You read medical issues on the internet? this is non-sense. I was surprised by his reaction and insisted on having his interpretation. He hadn’t! most probably because he had never heard of of the importance of series of values of cancer indexes…
    After this past story of how I started tracking, what I have remarked in your Tables Track Health Indicators or Symptoms and Track for self or others is that the demographics correspond more or less with the demographics of users of internet in Greece:
    – men 18-49years old with college education earning more than 25.000euro, urbanites
    What surprised me in the tracking tools is that even in the US with the widespread use of laptops, tablets and smart phones paper tracking and keeping track in head hold very strong!

    • Thanks, Kathi – I will add this to my list of favorite “early-internet ghost stories” when MDs could not understand where people were getting information that was more up to date than their own knowledge (and in many cases, refused to consider that they could learn from their patients).

      As for the strong hold of paper and “in your head” tracking — yes, that is one of the most important findings of this Pew Research study.

  3. Why men are more likely to share their symptoms with women than the other way around? As Dr. Oxford from University of London said “Men think they are going to die when they are unwell, so they go to bed and expect women to look after them.”

    Pew data are very interesting and there are many sides to the health tracking story. Aurametrix users helped me to identify guilt and fear as some of the reasons preventing them to track their health. And there are more. The road to culture change in health care is going to be long and thorny.

    • Thank you!

      I like data better than generalizations, but um, I have observed that gendered response to illness.

      I’m very interested in learning more about the role of guilt and fear in holding people back from health tracking. If you have studies or articles to share, I’d appreciate it.

    • Thanks for writing that post!

      Just looking at the results based on U.S. adults age 65+:

      71% track weight, diet, or exercise routine

      52% track some other health indicator, such as blood pressure, blood sugar, headaches, or sleep patterns

      23% of those who are caregivers track a health indicator for their caree

      Grand total: 81% of U.S. adults age 65+ track some aspect of health, for themselves or someone else.

      Now, before I go on, I should note an important comment that Rajiv Mehta wrote on the Quantified Self blog:


      “Long-term tracking has to do with analyzing a data series to see what you can learn, presumably to make some improvement to whatever is being tracked. This is what “tracking” seems to mean when the term is used by the QS community, Pew, etc. And also what the I imagine a lay person would think “tracking” means.

      Short-term tracking has to do with getting and using a data point in-the-moment, to make a decision. I would not be surprised if this is what most glucometer users are doing. They get a reading, and then decide how much or what to eat, whether to inject or not, etc. They are just “using” their glucometer; they’re not “tracking” their glucose levels. The glucometers make it possible to save and then later to study the user’s glucose patterns, but perhaps many people never do that. So, they don’t consider themselves trackers. And, I think in the spirit of Susannah’s question #26 perhaps they are not.”

      What do you think? Does this ring true based on your experience in the blood pressure clinics you ran?

  4. Thanks Susannah for another dose of provocative stats and analysis. In the many conversations I’ve had with Quantified Self folks since the self-tracking research was released I’ve noticed how many interesting issues have surfaced. The high numbers for general “self-tracking for health” questions suggest a nearly universal practice of thinking about certain important numbers in our lives, and how they change over time. The gap between people engaged in this general practice and those that are using technology, and the bigger gap between those using all technologies and those using apps and devices is the piece that begs for explanation – at least for those of us who think about how useful the new technologies currently are, and how useful they _could_ be. We’ll be looking closely at the tables to find clues.

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