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Are Health Apps the Cure for Anything That Ails You?

With about 9,000 consumer health apps currently available in the iTunes store, it seems like almost all smart phone users can download their way to better health these days.

The store offers a mindboggling array of creative apps, including ones that calculate calories burned during exercise, create soundtracks to help people fall asleep, and display pictures that can elicit memories from Alzheimer’s patients. If the store doesn’t offer something for what ails you now, it probably will soon. The selections will proliferate within the next year, with an additional 4,000 consumer apps expected by next summer, industry experts say.

But all this innovation creates a bewildering set of problems. It’s hard to figure out what apps are available, let alone which work best. Health apps may have the potential to dramatically improve people’s lives, but those based on misleading or bogus information can cause serious harm.

“Apple isn’t testing apps for their scientific validity,” said Dan Cohen, a social worker who has reviewed apps for their effectiveness.

Given the stakes, it’s no surprise that the government is starting to regulate these smart phone applications. Just last month, the Federal Trade Commission brought its first cases against the makers of two health apps. Each claimed to cure acne with colored lights emitted from cell phones.

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