By Stephanie Stahl


PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Experts say popular fitness apps can give anyone with access to your data a detailed picture of your health. More than 80% of dieters are foregoing help from nutritionists and trainers in favor of do-it-yourself options like diet and fitness apps.

The demand for these apps has created a growing industry of devices and trackers designed to help you meet fitness goals but how private is the information you provide?

When Courtney Berensten wants to watch her weight, making a nutritious breakfast includes an extra step — tracking her food with a calorie-counting app.

“I think that I probably could have achieved the same goals just from keeping, like, a food diary, but I didn’t want to. I wanted something that was easier,” Berensten said.

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Whether you’re trying to lose it or tone it up, there’s an app for that and they can be helpful. A recent study from Duke Digital Health showed participants lost five pounds in three months by using the popular app My Fitness Pal.

“We like to say in the weight-loss world, if you use more, you lose more. And the key challenge for any digital health app is how often and how long people will use it,” Gary Bennett, director at Duke Global Digital Heath Science Center, said.

Often, these apps can incorporate data from fitness trackers and other smart devices that are now built into clothing, even boxing gloves. While the information can be helpful, there are risks to consider.

“Whether these data can be used to make judgments about the kinds of treatments and programs we have access to — whether we can get insurance, how much we’re charged for insurance,” Bennett said.

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“We can use health data to learn a lot about a person. What’s happening to the data. How are they being used? How long are they being stored? To whom are they being sold? Those are really important questions for consumers to ask,” Bennett said.

When it comes to protecting your health data, it’s recommended that you leave out information or even change personal details while using apps. And remember, the data may not always be so reliable.

Stephanie Stahl