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How the women’s health wearables battle is heating up

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Around one in seven British adults use a smart watch or fitness tracker, with women more likely than men to use a fitness device, according to research from Silicon. But why is it that such devices are more popular amongst women than men? And how are the world’s tech giants adapting to suit this shift? Femtech World reports.

A fitness tracker can compile a variety of data about the wearer’s activities, depending on the complexity of the device. Users can monitor this data with a corresponding app, where they can manually input additional information about themselves and their lifestyle.

As a result, the makers of fitness trackers amass a wealth of data that can be used in many ways. Current privacy policies for many fitness tracking apps allow users’ information to be shared with others. Some researchers are already using data from these apps for health research.

Users have access to fitness, tips and healthcare advice at their fingertips. Women are making the most of trackers – and now, the giants of the tech world are fighting to provide the most useful resources to draw them in.

Here, we investigate how firms are broadening their technology to increase their appeal…

Apple

With Cycle Tracking on Apple Watches with iOS 13 and watchOS 6 or later, women can easily track their menstrual cycle, so they can get a better picture of their health.

This can be done in the Health app on their iPhone or the Cycle Tracking app on an Apple Watch. Notifications can be enabled to tell the user when the next period or fertile window is approaching.

In addition to the information that’s been logged for previous periods and cycle length, Health can use heart rate data from the Apple Watch to improve cycle tracking predictions.

Using heart rate data from Apple Watch to improve predictions is turned on by default, but it can be turned off at any time.

Apple announced early results from its health study in March, which was conducted alongside the University of Michigan School of Public Health. The figures are collected from those who choose to participate via the Research app the company launched back in 2019. This all forms part of Apple’s attempts to take a more serious approach to user health, built, in part, on data collected through the iPhone.

Data was collected from 10,000 participants around the United States with a range of different ages and ethnic backgrounds. Apple and research partner Harvard looked to study the connection between menstrual cycles and a variety of different health conditions, including infertility, polycystic ovary syndrome and perimenopause.

Early results note that symptoms like nausea and sleep changes are common, along with more frequently discussed things like bloating and cramps. The study also shows that many of the tracked symptoms are common and consistent across age, race and location — even though they may not be spoken about. The company says the efforts are, in part, to de-stigmatise discussions around the above.

Fitbit

Like Apple, Fitbit provides menstrual health tracking which includes elements such as helping to predict periods, a user’s estimated fertile window, and more.

The female health tracking feature was added to the watch in May 2018 to allow women to collate data about periods and ovulation alongside the other metrics. According to Fitbit, it was one of the firm’s most requested features

Tracking the cycle can allow the user to gain a better understanding of what’s happening in her body, help them to recognise any recurring irregularities, and identify menstrual patterns linked to everyday activities like sleep and exercise.

The Fitbit app will help to learn about a typical period length, estimated fertile window and ovulation day, and other information related to the cycle. Continuing to log and verify periods will provide more accurate predictions and offer greater insight into menstrual patterns.

Fitbit uses the data provided to estimate predictions, which will take into account the average cycle and period lengths provided during setup, although the period will need to be logged consistently to receive more accurate predictions.

However, in 2018, BBC News reported that women who had signed up to Fitbit’s period tracker have complained that it only allowed them to log periods of 10 days or fewer.

Many women pointed out that they can last much longer, making the tracker on the wearable fitness device useless for many users.

Fitbit confirmed that “currently a period must be less than 11 days”, and that it had asked those concerned to comment and vote on its suggestions board.

Three years later, it is unconfirmed whether the issue had been resolved.

Samsung

In 2020, Samsung took the leap (much delayed behind every other company) and now offers the long-awaited feature: period tracking.

Samsung rolled out an update, version 6.9.0.055, which adds a new women’s health category and allows users to track their menstrual cycles.

The addition of period tracking is part of Samsung’s attempt to make Samsung Health more comprehensive, allowing it to do more than simply monitor activity.

In 2019, Samsung Health added Calm’s meditation, relaxation and sleep services, along with blood-pressure monitoring and stress detection, to its Galaxy Watch Active.

As discussed above, it shows that the companies are meeting with the demand for women’s fitness. Whether it’s trackers designed to fit bodies or tech built to address specific health issues that females face, more and more companies are creating wearables to keep healthy.

Not only are these developments important because they address the needs of the female generation, they make business sense. The rise of ‘femtech’, a term coined by Ida Tin, founder of period tracking app Clue, is big news. The market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 16.2 per cent from 2021 to 2027, and FemTech Analytics reported that, while in 2013 the sector barely totalled US$100m annually, it’s now expected to exceed US$60 billion within the next decade.

 

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Start-up raises US4.2m to address disparities in women’s mental health

LunaJoy Health seeks to address the complex needs of high-risk women

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LunaJoy Health co-founders Sipra Laddha, MD and Shama Rathi, MD

The US telehealth start-up LunaJoy Health has raised US$4.2m in funding to address disparities in women’s mental health.

LunaJoy aims to eliminate inequalities in mental health and “redesign” the way women access care.

The platform, which offers mental health therapy, counselling and medication management, is developing care models that cater to underserved populations, providing care that seeks to address the complex needs of high-risk women.

The funding round, supported by Y Combinator, FoundersX Fund, Goodwater Capital, Magic Fund, VentureSouq, Nurture Ventures and NorthSouth Ventures, is hoped to help the company expand its capabilities and close disparities in maternal health care.

“The support from our investors, coupled with the current focus on maternal health improvements through TMaH funding, sets the stage for the change we need to see so badly across the industry,” said Sipra Laddha, co-founder and CEO of LunaJoy Health.

Mental health is a lifetime pursuit, and we want to design a way to engage and support women with a variety of needs and varying degrees of risk.

“By using technology, we can measure and treat symptoms more effectively, delivering a better service model to meet rising demand and a shortage of therapists in the US.”

This financial and strategic support, Laddha said, will help LunaJoy roll out its “novel” integrated care programme, LunaCare, across select communities in need of maternal mental health.

The investment will also facilitate the integration of advanced technology solutions to enhance care coordination and patient monitoring.

Surbhi Sarna, partner at Y Combinator, said: “LunaJoy Health’s mission to bring a new standard to maternal health care for Medicaid mothers aligns perfectly with our goal of supporting scalable solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges.

“We are proud to back such a vital initiative that promises significant impact.”

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New survey to ‘amplify’ marginalised voices in healthcare decision-making

UK charities enter partnership to address gender gap and advocate for inclusive healthcare policies

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The gynaecological health charity Cysters and Endometriosis UK have announced a partnership to amplify women’s voice in healthcare decision-making.

Despite progress in healthcare data collection, there remains a gap in representing the experiences of marginalised groups, particularly for those impacted by conditions and diseases like endometriosis.

Decision-makers in Parliament and the NHS often rely on data and statistics to inform policy and resource allocation. However, these datasets may not accurately reflect the experiences of marginalised communities.

A recent report from Endometriosis UK that gathered data on the experiences of being diagnosed with endometriosis in the UK found that whilst the ethnicity of respondents who identified as ‘white’ was proportionate to the data collected in the Census 2021, the remaining data was not illustrative of the ethnic diversity of the UK, with 15 per cent of respondents choosing not to respond to the ethnicity question.

To address this gap and advocate for inclusive healthcare policies, Cysters and Endometriosis UK are launching a new survey initiative aimed at amplifying the voices of marginalised groups in healthcare decision-making.

“We know that the current statistics are not inclusive of all communities, particularly marginalised groups,” said Neelam Heera-Shergill, founder of Cysters.

“By encouraging those from marginalised communities to share their experiences through this survey, they will be helping us to advocate for the changes that are needed, backed by evidence from their communities.

“In addition to delving into the diagnosis journey for people of colour and the unique barriers they encounter. We aim for this research and findings to pave the way for additional funded research on all menstrual-related conditions affecting people of colour.”

The survey seeks to gather insights into the experiences of marginalised communities, particularly concerning conditions and diseases like endometriosis.

Participants are encouraged to share their experiences openly and honestly, knowing that their responses will contribute to shaping more inclusive healthcare policies.

Sarah Harris, a researcher at Cysters, said: “We urge everyone to participate in this survey and share it far and wide. Together, we can ensure that all voices are considered in the conversation surrounding healthcare policy and resource allocation.”

The survey is anonymous and takes approximately 15 minutes to complete. To participate, visit Delayed Diagnosis of Endometriosis Among People of Colour in the UK Survey.

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Menstrual care start-up launches period equity initiative across college campuses

The initiative is hoped to facilitate access to period care and educate students on the use of more sustainable products

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Cherie Hoeger, founder and CEO of Saalt

The US menstrual care start-up Saalt has launched a new initiative aimed at addressing period poverty and environmental sustainability.

The Period Equity Initiative aims to reduce 100 million tampons from the environment while combatting period poverty.

Institutions, including Harvard University, Vanderbilt University, Northwestern University, the University of Utah and the University of Nebraska, are already participating in the programme.

One in five female college students in the US have had to decide between buying period products and paying for other basic essentials like food and other bills according to a nationwide survey.

The initiative, a direct response to the demand for more units for student populations, underscores the issue of period poverty, which affects students across America, challenging the misconception that it is solely an “overseas problem”.

Saalt aims to make period care accessible and affordable through the subsidisation of reusable period products, such as cups, discs, and period underwear, to participating universities and their campus affiliates.

The project is hoped to not only facilitate access to period care, but also educate students on the use of more sustainable products, which are designed to be reused rather than discarded.

“Every day we hear from customers about how life-changing Saalt cups are for them,” said Cherie Hoeger, founder and CEO of Saalt.

“Creating period equity and managing the environmental impact created by disposables are pressing matters that demand urgent attention and innovative solutions.

“Through our Period Equity Initiative, we’re taking a proactive approach to tackle these challenges by leveraging our expertise and aligning with universities across America to make a big impact closer to home.”

The Period Equity Initiative, Hoeger added, furthers Saalt’s commitment to making period care more affordable, accessible and sustainable.

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