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Dunedin | Christchurch
Dunedin | Christchurch

Using Data Visualisation to support better personal health

About 6 years ago I was diagnosed with Diabetes, at 33 and not that overweight it was a bit of a weird one. Although I was a bit shocked at the time, it was generally a positive experience because it helped to explain why I felt the way that I did, tired and sick. Initially I took to the management of it and kept pretty tight control over my diet and exercise, over time though I became complacent and bad habits started creeping in.

2 years ago my daughter was born and as she grew up I started to realise some of the fatigue was creeping back, not to mention being reminded by my partner that so was the extra weight !!

Measuring my blood sugar readings was done using a pretty standard Blood Glucose stick just like the one in the image below. A general point in time value that told me right then a there where I was at, but not often was it in context of the whole day of where my blood was or might be going.

About 10 weeks ago I found out about a device called the FreeStyle Libre. Basically it’s a Continuous Glucose Monitor. You stick a sensor on your arm that has a tiny needle underneath, you use a reader device to read your sugar levels by waiving the reader over the sensor. The sensor stores 8 hours of data and stays on your arm for two weeks before you replace it with another.

At first I thought it would just be better than having to prick my fingers 3 or more times per day. What I realised pretty quick was the data, or more to the point, the visualisation of the data was extremely good at helping me to understand so much about the trend of my sugar levels.

I could see what happened when I ate certain foods, or did some exercise. I was reminded in no uncertain terms if my levels were out of the ‘target zone’ and it made me take a long hard look at my health, really quickly.

To the left is a typical display for the Libre showing the current reading, the direction of the levels and an 8 hour trend line chart showing the target zone in blue.

On my first day using the Libre I was shown a chart that looked like this

As you can see I spent most of the day above my target area defined here by the two red lines. I was shocked to see it so obviously out of control I immediately started to make changes. Day 2 was an improvement.

As you can see I have become a bit more erratic but spending more time in the right zone.

Then by Day 7 I’m starting to get pretty happy with myself, I’m spending most of the day in the target zone, I get instant feedback and I can see real trends of response to the effort I am putting in, basically in real time.

Health wise at this point I am already starting to feel better, but I am interested to see overall how my first week looked. The following chart is a consolidation of all my readings for the week. This is a chart out of the app from the reader itself.

Here you can see my ‘lows’ are shown in red, all of these happening while I was asleep. I also notice that I have a bit of a peek just as I’m getting out of bed, later I found out this is called Dawn Phenomenon, and there is ways to avoid this too. My average reading is pretty good and I am spending most of my time in the right zone, however it is still quite erratic with readings all over the place.

So after a relatively dramatic diet change and improvements in my exercise regime, backed by the instant feedback of the Libre I progressed to this at Week 4

And then this at Week 8

In my work I am always talking about the ability for data visualisation to help organisations to know their data, know their business and make better decision from it.

Here I proved to myself that it works on a personal level too.

Post Author: Jon Foote