OCT 05, 2016 11:26 AM PDT

Are Fitness Trackers More Fad than Fit?

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

FitBits and the likes seem to play well into the notion of health and fitness. But a new study shows that tracking fitness doesn’t actually help people lose weight. Are these wearable devices just for looks then?



Image credit: Pixabay.com 

 

Wearable technology exploded on the market just a few years ago – many experts actually called 2014 as the “Year of the Wearables.” Arguably, the market of wearables is dominated by fitness and health trackers, with FitBit leading the charge. It’s estimated that this market will steadily climb to more than $12 billion by 2018.
 
The idea behind these trendy fitness trackers is a noble one – if we can track our daily activities, perhaps we will be more stimulated to incorporating the exercise that we know we need but don’t actually get. In the long run, perhaps a simple tracker can motivate us to get up and move, and lose weight in the process.
 
But as it turns out, perhaps to no one’s surprise, fitness trackers are more fad than fit. In a 2-year study of 470 people who were classified as overweight to obese (based on BMI measurements), researchers found that the group with a fitness tracker actually lost less weight.
 
Of note, researchers split participants into 2 groups: self-reporting versus fitness trackers for daily activities. Both groups were also encouraged similarly to exercise and restrict their diet to a low-calorie one. It appears, then that the only variable between the 2 groups should be the fitness tracking devices. And these seem to have sabotaged the weight loss efforts for half of the participants!
 


"Devices that monitor and provide feedback on physical activity may not offer an advantage over standard behavioral weight loss approaches," the authors wrote in their study.
 
How could having actual counts of your steps and heart rate have the opposite of the desired effect? "These technologies are focused on physical activity, like taking steps and getting your heart rate up," offered John Jakicic, researcher at the University of Pittsburgh and lead study author. "People would say, 'Oh, I exercised a lot today, now I can eat more.' And they might eat more than they otherwise would have."
 
Or perhaps the tracking device shamed more than it encouraged. That is, while some people are motivated to reach their step counts, for example, others may feel discouraged when these goals aren’t met. Or, on a very basic level, do people just get bored with their digital fitness gadget?
 
"Overall, it doesn't look like assigning someone wearable technology will make that big of a difference," says Jakicic.

Additional sources: MNT, NPR, Statista

About the Author
I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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