The decision, whether taking stairs or the escalator is the better choice, has been charged with a new socio-political dimension lately. Both speed and convenience do hardly matter, yet it has turned into a question of fitness and health. As the Fitbit advertisement points out, “fitness is the sum of your life.” It can be found between beginnings and endings or between high and low ends of the exercise spectrum. Gone are the times when physical activity was confined to particular spaces reserved for heavy exercise—like gyms. Today we live in an almost endless sea of fitness opportunities, called: your daily life. Of major importance in this change is the popular trend of logging one’s activities with digital tracking devices,…

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In May this year, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) introduced new labels that will have to be printed on most packaged food products by July 2018. In a presentation at the White House, Michelle Obama praised the label as making “a real difference in providing families across the country the information they need to make healthy choices.” Recent posts on this blog have discussed notions of transparency and choice. Today, I want to add some remarks on the history and politics of the gauge on which a lot of today’s food talk is based: on calories. The new food label includes a line on added sugars as well as changes in serving sizes. Its most visible change, however,…

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“I track myself, therefore I am” is perhaps the most fitting way to describe the basic idea behind the Quantified Self movement which has gained popularity all over the world in recent years. Increasingly, people have started to record and measure their own body-related data, tracking changes over time in metrics such as body weight, blood pressure, caloric expenditure, and the ever-present Body-Mass-Index (BMI). Simultaneously, the sale corresponding apps, sensors, smartwatches, and weighing scales that provide the technical means to collect this data has experienced a continuing surge. The sensors on Nike+ devices, for example, track movement, distance, and speed during physical activities such as running. Apparently, people love collecting these data, fueled by the promise of becoming slimmer and…

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For lunch Hillary Clinton ingested 840 calories, 1.270 milligrams of sodium and 11.5 grams of saturated fat. This was on Monday, April 13, 2015. She had takeout from a Chipotle outside of Toledo, Ohio. A surveillance camera recorded her visit. One day before, she had launched her campaign for the US Presidency. Where did we get the nutritional data? New York Times writer Kevin Quealy did the research for us. His piece claims that Clinton had the “chicken bowl, white rice, black beans, fresh garden salsa, shredded cheese, lettuce and guacamole.” Using a Chipotle calorie calculator, the journalist computed how Clinton’s order at the slightly upscale fast food restaurant compares to the national average. Apparently, Quealy states, her lunch “was…

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