Your FitBit won’t make you healthy

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Take a trip down to your closest park on a Saturday morning and it is likely you will find many little kids running around attempting to play soccer. The fans get rowdy and if you take a closer look, you will see many, many ‘soccer’ moms. The parking lots are filled with mini vans and the side lines host many mothers seeking to watch their child score the next goal. Take a closer look at these moms, not too close, look towards their wrist. It is likely that you may see many of them wearing fitness trackers. They may have their own personal reasons for using them, but it is likely they noticed they no longer fit into their clothes from five years and thought that buying a fitness tracker would be the first major step in getting back into shape. However, they may have been very wrong, even counterproductive to their effort to lose weight.

Fitness technology has come a very long way recently. These bands now can constantly track heart rate, steps, flights climbed, calories burned, and the quality of sleep; they can even give you your estimated weight if you input what you have eaten. The trackers are extremely modern and their technology only keeps increasing.

Researches became interested if these trackers actually help individuals who use them. Consequently, they decided to perform an experiment with 800 people ages 21-65. Their goal was to find if the use of fitness trackers actually improves the user’s health. This study was done shortly after another study was done and concluded that the fitness trackers are less effective than self-monitoring your own weight.

First Study

The first study was done on a group of 470 people who were either considered to be overweight or obese. Everyone in the group was put onto a controlled low-calorie diet and an exercise plan. This randomized control experiment went on for 2 years and 6 months in, after everyone in the study had time to adjust to new diet and exercise plans, half of the individuals were given a Fit Core Armband- the other half simply just tracked things on their own. After 2 years, the researchers found that those who used the armband only lost an average of 7.7 pounds while those who were self-tracking lost an average of 13 pounds. From this data, the researches came to the conclusion that weight-loss trackers do not aid in weight-loss, rather it is more effective to simply self-track and follow a good diet and excise plan.

Second Study

The second study was conducted on 800 participants from Singapore. The participants were split up into 4 groups: control group, fitbit group, and the final two groups were given a fitbit and either a donation to charity or cash reward for the initial 6 months of the trial. The study found that the highest increase in activity came from those with a cash incentive, and the least from the only fitbit group (not including the control group). The study came to conclude that the device did not improve the user’s health.

Analysis

Both of these studies came to very serious conclusions- they both are showing that fitness trackers are not effective. Two studies are not enough to find a valid conclusion when there are many other variables that need to be analyzed. Individual motivation (confounding variable) is a huge deal when looking at weight loss. Due to randomization it should turn out that the groups in the study have an equally average motivation but wearing the bands or incentives may play into that. I believe the first study was much better done than the second. While individuals may have had more motivation to prove that they could lose weight without the fitness tracker, it was a very small difference in the difference between those wearing and those not wearing the tracker. While this experiment controlled the fitness tracker as the only manipulated variable, the second study decided to implement a cash incentive. I believe this part of the study was completely unnecessary because it is obvious if you provide people with an incentive they are going to do more of that activity (simple economics), and is not really in relation to the question if “just fitbits” increase a person’s health.

I have no choice to 100% agree with the conclusion of this study despite how ridiculous it is. It is obvious that a fitbit is not going to increase one’s health. However, that is not the purpose of a fitbit, the purpose is for an individual to be able to easily track their fitness and log their progress. In the first study, the fitbit group did lose weight and in the second study they were also shown having an adequate number of daily steps. Now there may be some correlation between wearing a fitbit and having less motivation, but more research would need to be done to conclude that. It is interesting that the groups wearing fitbits did not lose more weight than those who were not, but until a mechanism can be found to why this it the data does not mean much besides a correlation.

Sources:

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/sep/21/fitness-trackers-may-not-aid-weight-loss-study-finds

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/oct/04/fitness-trackers-do-not-increase-activity-enough-to-noticeably-improve-health

3 thoughts on “Your FitBit won’t make you healthy

  1. Danielle Megan Sobel

    This is a cool blog and I have seen a lot of my friends and family members get very wrapped up in their FitBit weight trackers. I think the concept is well thought out in essence, however, what is wrong with good old fashion activity that you track with a stop watch? Like you said, I don’t think this will make a person healthier. On the FitBit website, it never says it will make a person healthier, although that may be a person’s personal goal: https://help.fitbit.com/articles/en_US/Help_article/1853#whatis

  2. Brandon Ross Armitt

    Although your results came back and said that there seemed to be no correlation between the use of a Fit Bit and improvement of one’s health. For someone who personally uses a Fit Bit, part of me wants to disagree with this study because wearing one definitely has its positives on your life. When first setting it up, you are able to set a goal of how many steps you want to achieve each day. For me when I first got it, I did everything possible to hit that goal, because its recommended to walk at least 10,000 steps per day. By doing this you are defintely doing more benefit to your body rather then harm. My mom was the first one in our family to get one, and after a couple months of using it, she said that she felt a lot better about herself then previously. She was always trying to reach that step goal and when she did by the end of the day, she felt a lot better about herself. Obviously when you take this to a study, there are going to be overwhelmingly different results, which is probably why the studies came back as no impact. But there are going to be some people out there that are positively impacted by it, but sometimes goes unnoticed.

    Attached is a link that talks about how Duke National University did studies and found no impact on the health of people when using Fitbits: http://www.dukechronicle.com/article/2016/10/tracking-your-steps-might-not-help-new-study-shows-fitbits-do-not-improve-health

  3. Caroline Sorrentino

    Matthew,
    This is a relevant topic since it is something only this generation has really just started using. I used to have an app on my phone called My Fitness Pal. I could log in what I ate just by scanning the bar code or entering what kind of workout I did or didn’t do for the day. It showed me a plan of how I was supposed to lose 3 pounds a week or something if I stuck to a certain amount of calories and exercise per week. I ended up not losing any weight but not gaining any either. It was such a waste of time. I find now that just sticking to a healthy lifestyle is much more efficient than a number you see on your phone. Here are some “quick” and “easy” ways to tweak and improve your weight, according to Health.com

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