Study finds ‘no proof’ fitness trackers improve weight loss

Research published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has called into question the efficacy of fitness trackers at promoting weight loss.


Fitness trackers

Fitness trackers, also called activity trackers, refer to wearable technology devices that measure and record a user’s physiological data, such as number of steps walked, heart rate, quality of sleep, steps climbed, and other personal metrics. Some of the better known fitness trackers include those made by Fitbit and Jawbone.

Clinical trial

The JAMA article, entitled “Effect of Wearable Technology Combined With a Lifestyle Intervention on Long-term Weight Loss,” was based on a randomized clinical trial conducted at the University of Pittsburgh. The trial included 471 participants, who were placed on a low-calorie diet, prescribed increases in physical activity, and given group counseling sessions. One group of participants was provided with wearable devices (and an accompanying web interface to monitor diet and physical activity), while another group was not.

Data collection was completed in December 2014, and the recently-published results showed that both groups had significant improvements in body composition, fitness, physical activity, and diet, with no significant difference between groups.

Research findings

The University of Pittsburgh researchers noted that “[t]he few studies that have shown promise for adding wearable technology at the onset of a weight loss intervention have been short in duration and have included relatively small samples of participants.” However, “[a]mong young adults with a BMI between 25 and less than 40, the addition of a wearable technology device to a standard behavioral intervention resulted in less weight loss over 24 months.” Accordingly, the researchers concluded that “[d]evices that monitor and provide feedback on physical activity may not offer an advantage over standard behavioral weight loss approaches.”

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