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How good is your fitness tracker actually?

Posted 579 Days Ago in: Training, Industry News

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In the last few days, various media outlets, have been reporting on a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, or JAMA, headed up by lead researcher John Jakicic, which shows that your brand new wearable device may not be the miraculous answer to losing weight – but is this really a surprise?

In the last few days, various media outlets, have been reporting on a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, or JAMA, headed up by lead researcher John Jakicic, which shows that your brand new wearable device may not be the miraculous answer to losing weight – but is this really a surprise?

The researchers took 470 overweight people who wanted to lose weight and put them on a weight loss regime in 2010. After 6 months of diet they randomised their test and gave half of the people a wearable device, named Fit Core, for the remaining 18 months, while the others were put on a normal weight loss regime.

Expecting results in favour of the wearable device, the researchers found that the people wearing the fitness tracker lost less weight than those who were dieting normally. Everyone still lost weight but there was a significant difference. And they don’t know why.

Although they’ve come up with a few theories: firstly, that the way the data is presented is problematic, which lulls people into a false sense of belief that all the results are accurate and they can cheat a little more on the dieting. Secondly, they believe that the daily goals set, especially after a busy day, can be discouraging to those who think that there’s no way that they’ll reach the goal and don’t try to get anywhere near it, as a result. Finally, it could be that after the sudden surge of emotion and craze surrounding a new gadget, people are prone to get bored of technology and may lose focus.

The study is interesting but it doesn’t actually prove that fitness trackers make you gain weight, as some media articles suggested. It appears that there may be other factors at work that are clouding our judgment among the weight of expectation that’s been placed on wearables like Jawbone and FitBit to solve fitness, nutrition and weight loss issues.

People may be succumbing to a false sense of security by way of the data they receive from wearable but what many media outlets failed to take into account in the human element and desire and motivation to stick to a weight loss regime. As Dr David Ellis from the University of Lancaster was quoted as saying: “wearables are often bought by people who are already active and want to monitor their progress”. So, perhaps wearables aren’t always ideal for people who lack the motivation to exercise and diet but in terms of gym-goers, runners and sports enthusiasts, it allows them to track their progress efficiently.

Another issue is that the study was done in 2010 and ended in 2012. We’re in 2016 now and we all know how technology has moved at a rapid rate. Imagine comparing the capabilities of an iPhone in 2011 to the latest model today. Big difference! Fitness trackers are now enabled with display, prompts, challenges, can be linked with other devices and have been subject to even more research and innovation in recent times than in preceding years. Smaller studies for corporate health and wellness programmes have also seen positive results.  

The study does offer useful suggestions regarding further innovation for fitness trackers. The gist of what Jakicic explains being that instead of being critical in prompting people to work out, there could be more benefit in fitness trackers speaking to people on a more human level and asking them “what’s wrong” or, “we see you haven’t been working out, why?”. Adopting a new language could work more efficiently from a psychological point of view.

Jakicic ends by saying that “if people do find wearables engaging then they should absolutely wear them”. The truth is that we don’t know why the results of the study were not in favour of the wearable device, even though everyone still lost weight, and that the science has developed exponentially since the industry exploded. It does show that this is just the beginning and that in this growing industry there is still so much more room for improvement, development and innovation – which potentially opens the door for new entrepreneurs and growth.

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