Software for health and fitness. (evaluation) Michael S. Davidson.
Recent medical evidence suggests that many of the diseases from which we Americans suffer are directly related to improper diet and lack of exercise. This had led to an almost insatiable desire in Americans for products that will improve their health. It is not surprising, then, that health related computer software, with its mystique and implicit promise of health nirvana, is on its way to the market in volume.
There is software for health records, health advice, diet analysis, physical fitness, and much more. Some of these utilize the computer in powerful ways that truly hold open the possibility of health improvement. Others are interesting as adventures in technology but fail to offer substantial advantages over traditional books and classes. They may be fun, however, and this is important too.
As a health educator, I see enormous potential for health improvement through the use of computers. It is important, however, that health related computer software be chosen with utmost care. Therefore, it is essential that you consider the following questions before deciding which package(s) to buy.
First, who developed the program? Check the credentials of the authors or consultants. One of them should be a medical doctor, nurse community health specialist, dietician, health educator, or other recognized health professional. If not, try to find out what qualifies the author(s) to write a program for you.
Second, are the database and other information credible? Do they come from the U.S. Government, voluntary health organizations, or other known health agencies or academic institutions? You must be able to check sources if you encounter doubtful suggestions.
A third important, although almost unanswerable, question is, can the software do any harm? There is little room for error in a health program. Although every program I reviewed came with an absolute disclaimer, there is still the tendency to treat the suggestions of a computer as though they came from some authority higher than a human being. When using a health program, talk to other users about their experience, and look for clarity of instructions. Check for accuracy of calculations, advice, or information. Make periodic checks against some objective measure.
Finally, does the program offer more than just a useful way to do something? Does it educate about the causes, prevention, and treatment of health related problems?
If you take the time to find the answers to these questions, the chances of your buying a useful and significant software package are greatly enhanced.
Following are short reviews of several programs for health records and advice, medical diagnostics, diet analysis, weight loss, and physical fitness. If traditional methods have failed you or you are just interest in a new way of attacking some old problems, read on; I hope you will discover a program that will make you a healthier person. An Apple A Day
An Apple A Day from the health professionals at Avant-Garde Publishing is a three-part program for giving health advice, maintaining medical records, and developing a health telephone directory.
Health Advice offers help on 46 different medical categories ranging from acne to venereal disease. The program takes the role of a physican asking a series of diagnostic questions and includes suggestions for health promotion and disease prevention. By the time I got to the end of an illness section, I knew whether to rush to an emergency room, make an appointment with my doctor, or just wait until my symptoms went away. I felt no chances were being taken with my health.
The Medical Records section of An Apple A Day is structured to ask for the most basic information about nine areas of health care such as immunizations and hospitalizations. Once you have entered data to the records section, you can retrieve information in either a single category such as Lab Test or by all nine medical categories. In addition, it is possible to print out the entire medical record. Medical Records makes it possible to maintain an orderly array of medical information that can be used for tax or insurance purposes. Having long term health records could prove invaluable in future diagnoses or if original records are lost.
Overall, this is a good, useful, easy-to-use program for those who don't mind keeping their medical records in a place and form accessible to anyone who can boot a disk. Internist
The Internist from N-Squared Computing assists health professionals and health conscious individuals in making differential medical diagnoses.
Starting from a main menu of 34 body parts and functions, you select, for example, Abdominal/Eating, Female Genitourinary, or Speech. The program then lists symptoms associated with the selected medical area. You choose those that apply to the patient, hypothetical or otherwise, and the program offers a Pooled or Exclusive Diagnostic Analysis. The Pooled Analysis lists all diseases that have at least one of the indicated symptoms, while the Exclusive Analysis indicates only those diseases that present all the symptoms entered. The database contains 331 diseases, which can be displayed individually to show all the symptoms associated with each.
The program is designed to run on an Apple with only 64K, but it has a built-in high speed operating system called Diversi-Dos which significantly increases its speed of operation. It is quite easy to use, comes with a short but readable Instruction Manual, and offers printed as well as screen output.
Should this program be used by non-health professionals--and it is being offered to the general public--it may create anxiety in some. I do think, however, that most people would benefit greatly by this inside look at how a physician might arrive at a diagnosis. It may also serve to give individuals a greater awareness of the need to get health attention. Master Control
"You were not born to be Fat," says Master Control--A Diet and Exercise Program. This well crafted program offers the habitual dieting failure a proven behavioral modification approach that I know works well.
Written by physicians for the IBM personal computer, it utilizes a nine-facet main menu consisting of Personal Profile, Diet Prescription, Diet Diary, Weight Diary, Numeric Analysis, Graphic Analysis, Diet Scorecard, Exercise Scorecard, and Health Quiz.
The highly individualized program helps you set a weight goal. It calculates the number of daily calories needed to achieve the goal over a period of time you specify based on age, sex, height, and weight. A diet Prescription of food and exercise is then provided.
The Diet Diary is the heart of the program; into it you make entries by name or number from a list of 3000 generic, brand name, and fast foods. You also enter the date, time, activity, meal, item, quantity, and unit of the food. The activity entered can be for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, or exercise. The number of calories is instantly calculated both for the food eaten and the exercise completed.
The Diet History lets you see what and when you have eaten and offers the opportunity to study eating patterns for up to one week. The program can print hard copy so you can keep permanent records. The program also provides a numeric and graphical analysis of your eating habits.
The Diet and Exercise Scorecards ask questions designed to determine how well you have followed the total program each week. The last section of the program is a Health Quiz which asks a series of questions about the educational material found in the Guidebook.
The accompanying Guidebook has some significant drawbacks. Although it contains excellent guides to analyzing your weight and exercise behavior, its poor line justification makes it visually difficult to follow. More important, however, is that the authors write with few headings, listings, or indices, so locating specific information is difficult.
Overall, this program is as much an educational experience as it is an entertaining program to use. It meets the criteria for an excellent health program, and I recommend it highly. NSL Analyzer
The NSL Diet Analyzer, for use on IBM compatible computers from Natural Software Limited, is designed to make it easy to review and improve upon your eating habits. It has five System Building Blocks including Goal Profiles, Work Sheet, Diet History, Food Dictionary, and Help.
The first step in using the program is to establish your Goal Profile. It is recommended by the authors that a physician or dietician be consulted before entering this profile. You indicate the number of calories in the goal and then what proportions of such things as fats, protein, and cholesterol you want to include in the diet.
The second step is to fill in the computerized Work Sheet, the central feature of the program. You enter the name of a food, and the program then displays 24 different nutritional values for the food, keeps a running total for each, and compares these total with the Goal Profile.
The foods you enter can be stored as the Diet History along with body weight and the number of calories expended in exercise.
A very significant feature of this program is the Food Dictionary. This database has nutritional information on 500 foods and, depending on your hardware, is expandable to 1900 foods. You can add, change, or delete items. You can also enter any combination of foods including home recipes, processed foods, and entire meals into the dictionary.
The program has fully integrated set of instructions in Help. Using Help will answer any questions about the working of the program and is a highly expanded version of the User's Guide.
Overall, this superior program is extremely easy to use. The database is taken from a series of U.S. government sources, and although the accompanying manual does not indicate the credentials of the writers, the program is professionally conceptualized and appears to have been developed by health professionals. It provides the serious diet analyzer with sufficient information to determine his own course of dietary action. I can recommend this program most highly. Nutritionist II
Nutritionist II from N-Squared Computing is a comprehensive interactive graphics diet analysis program. It is written for professional dieticians and educators, although it would be of great value to families with special nutritional needs.
The package comes with a program disk, a database disk, a USDA database source, a quick reference numbered index of all foods in the database, and a Comprehensive User's Manual.
Making full use of menus, the program analyzes food for 38 nutrients including amino acids. It indicates diet deficiencies and excesses and can identify their sources. It can create food lists for special requirement diets, and automatically determines food exchanges and substitutes. It has an exercise program that calculates calorie expenditures of different activities and produces a set of physical activities to help implement a calorie reduction plan. It even calculates the cost of a particular food or menu.
Nutritionist II is extraordinary not only in its comprehensiveness but in its ease-of-use and flexibility. It is extremely easy to move from the main menu to the submenus without error. It is quite fast in its operation, and there is virtually no waiting time for calculations of values. It is possible to determine not only specific values of foods but to determine the percentage of various Recommended Dietary Allowances found in each. These RDAs are calculated based on the individual's age, sex, and other variables. Everything is done automatically.
The program is so flexible that it is unlikely to become obsolete. For example, the food database has unlimited expandability and the activity database can be increased to include up to 99 activities. The RDA editor permits you to add or change the RDA data files. Any part of the analysis can be printed out.
Nutritionist II comes with a well written and indexed manual. Although expensive ($299) when compared to other similar programs, Nutritionist II is so comprehensive, so well though out, and so easy to use, that it becomes highly cost-effective--a truly superior product. Running Your Best Race
Running Your Best Race from Wm. C. Brown Publishers is a software program designed to accompany the college textbook of the same name by Joe
Henderson. It is written for both the Apple family of computers and the IBM/PC. The purpose of the program is to make you a better runner by providing quick analysis of your training, testing, and racing results. It also provides a record keeping segment that serves as a computerized diary.
The computer program and book are clearly for the very serious runners who want to improve their racing performance. It is necessary to keep precise records of all running activities to derive full benefit from the program.
The program itself, however, is simple to use and can save running information for up to 30 days. It offers good running advice, and, especially given the credentials of the author, it is to be recommended. James F. Fixx: The Running Program
The Running Program, the legacy of Jim Fixx, noted running authority, remains a credit to his excellence, for it is a superior health program. Fixx included specialists in medicine, exercise, and nutrition in his writing group. The information/database is based on sound medical research. The program is filled with educational information about exercise, cardiovascular health, lifestyle, nutrition, and much more.
All health related computer programs have strongly worded disclaimers, and they usually suggest that no computer program is a substitute for a physician. The Running Program goes well beyond these caveats. It does not permit users to take any chances with their health. When I attempted to set up a training program for a 10K race, the program would not let me because I had not yet reached an average run of three miles per day.
The Running Program is divided into seven basic chapters. The core of the program is Keeping Track . . . The Runners Record. It records your progress, evaluates your diet for weight control and selected nutritional content, and lets you see how closely daily exercise matches your goals. It can determine the number of calories burned after exercise and provide a basic nutritional break-down of the food you eat.
The program is enhanced by chapters entitled What Shape Are You In?, Set a Goal and Reach It, How Do You Measure Up?, Nuts and Bolts, and a comprehensive Index. It has a full Help segment, and for those with a color monitor, offers a choice of screen color combinations which help make for extremely pleasant viewing.
Of particular note is the educational adventure in Nuts and Bolts. It gives nutritional advice, tells you how fast to run and how to do warm up/cool down exercises.
Overall, James F. Fixx: The Running Program is an outstandingly orchestrated computer program. It is individualized and quite easy to use. Runner/computer buffs--both men and women--shall enjoy it and appreciate the way it can help them get more out of their exercise programs. Aerobics
Aerobics, The Computer Fitness Program from Spinnaker Software runs on Commodore 64 and Atari computers. Its purpose is to provide you with a total fitness program of 18 different beginning, intermediate, and advanced aerobic exercise routines. The program displays a graphical female figure that does the various exercise routines much as Jane Fonda does.
The program is easy to use and well constructed but quite slow in loading. It comes with a brief but detailed manual that describes clearly how to do the exercises. The same information is also shown on the screen. You can focus on selected areas of the body such as waist, hips, or buttocks, and both warm up and cool down exercises are suggested.
because Aerobics is fun to use and based on sound physical fitness principles, I recommend it highly.
Products: An Apple a Day (computer program)
Aerobics (computer program)
Internist (computer program)
James F. Fixx: The Running Program (computer program)
Master Control (computer program)
NSL Diet Analyzer (computer program)
Nutritionist II (computer program)
Running Your Best Race (computer program)