Mind the phone

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Science  11 Dec 2015:
Vol. 350, Issue 6266, pp. 1306-1309
DOI: 10.1126/science.350.6266.1306

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As roughly 20 million Fitbit owners can attest, the idea of the "quantified self" is enticing. Consumers are turning to their smartphones and wearable devices to count their steps, their calories, or their hours of sleep; to help them quit smoking, drinking, or stressing; or to help manage chronic illness. And this life-tracking craze has produced something that many clinical researchers covet: a deluge of intimate data about individuals' moment-to-moment behavior, and the chance to influence that behavior in real time, through activities built into an app or strategically timed alerts and messages. Major university health centers and government funding agencies hope "mHealth" will finally make a dent in intractable public health problems, from obesity to tobacco use to depression. But harnessing the self-tracking trend to promote healthier behavior is far from a sure bet, as the first generation of mobile health researchers are discovering.