International CES, the annual gathering of consumer electronics manufacturers, retailers and distributors, is a reliable barometer for technology trends. What you see at CES in January is predictive of what will be on the shelves in the coming months or even years. So, the trade association’s announcement this week that digital health and fitness technology has become one of the show’s fastest growing segments can be taken as a signpost pointing toward the future. More than 215 digital health and fitness technology vendors will be exhibiting their wares at CES in January, a nearly 25 percent jump from 2012.

The FitnessTech and Digital Health Summit TechZones will feature products for diagnosing, monitoring and treating illnesses as well as products that promote and reinforce healthy behavior. Many will be mobile and many will be designed as games.

The category is moving fast and moving past the glut of unimaginative products for exercise tracking and calorie counting. Next-gen health and fitness devices and apps will give users anytime/anywhere access to their medical history as well as remote access to medical professionals. Products on display will include tele-health systems, robotic aids, electronic medical records, therapeutic and diagnostic medical devices and monitoring devices for the home.

The new tools will enable the capture and compilation of biometric data that can be parsed, charted and shared. Individuals will soon have access to the kind of health telemetry NASA gathers from astronauts in space. By some estimates, within five years there will be as many as 170 million wearable devices for sports and fitness in use.

Prominent digital healthcare vendors scheduled to exhibit at CES include HealthSpot, Body Media, Life Technologies, Omron Healthcare, Scosche Industries and United Health Group.

“Health and fitness technology is booming, and will continue its dominance on the CES show floor,” said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO, CEA.

Ed. Note:

Now you’ve heard it straight from the loudspeakers of the $206 billion U.S. consumer electronics industry: The convergence of health, fitness and technology is upon us.

The 200+ exhibiting digital health and fitness companies are only a drop in the bucket compared to the 3,000 technology companies that in January will attract what might well be the largest gathering of techno-geeks on the planet. Even so, there is no doubting that digital health tech is in our future. Few things interest people more than their own health and few things have captured our imaginations and bank cards like digital tech.

Therefore, it’s all good news, right? The Digital Age will usher in a new era of health and fitness. We will be linked in and buffed up. Disease, illness and wellness inertia will be no match for our silicon arsenal of medical gadgets.

Um, maybe.

Will the technologies be physically and psychologically motivational? Will they be able to overcome sedentary tendencies, gluttony and various forms of addictions? If we make our bodies into digital input/output devices will we be able to muster willpower and step onto paths of moderation? Or will all those sensors and readouts, games and doohickeys just give us the bad news in greater detail?

Having access to affordable gene sequencing, a doctor in your pocket, real-time medicine monitoring, smart bandages and all the other digital health marvels on the horizon won’t mean much and may actually do more harm than good unless accompanied by a well-developed sense of personal responsibility for our own well-being and, of equal importance, a healthy dose of digital health literacy.

That’s the real promise of digital health technology. What better time to bring kids, adults and seniors up to speed on digital health than when it is just coming online. It happened with the Internet and education. The Web is no longer an adjunct to education, it is endemic to it. In a very short time, the same will happen with health technology. The merging of health education and digital literacy training could be an opportunity to put people who have fallen off the health wagon back on track. Digital health tech could make good health trendy. 

When it comes to quality of life, digital health literacy just might become the single most critical digital literacy of them all.

The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu called health our greatest possession. Yeah, that and an iPhone.