LEP Fitness


Can Wearing Activity Trackers Help You Lose Weight?


Activity Trackers…

Can Wearing Activity Trackers Help You Lose Weight?

In the UK, there were 3 million fitness watches sold in 2015 (Mintel Data). Overall, the market for wearable watches has increased tremendously with 78.1 million of them sold in 2015.

Last year, estimated sales were at 102 million which still reflects an increasing trend. The same survey indicates that 1 in 7 Brits or 14% own some type of wearable technology. It is popular among the 16-34 age group with 13% owning a fitness band and 6% in the same age group in possession of a smartwatch.

But, are activity trackers effective in helping people shed off unwanted pounds and sustaining weight loss?

Accuracy of Activity Trackers…

First, fitness trackers cannot by themselves zap extra pounds. Instead, they are designed to help you monitor levels of physical activity to assist in weight loss and management. The idea is that by keeping tabs on your movement, you can set activity targets (10,000 steps a day as recommended by the government) and stay fit.

The accuracy of ATs, however, is a major concern. For example, several Fitbit owners in the US claimed that the device underestimated heart rates during intense activities and this is misleading to consumers. The women are suing the company over false claims of Fitbit heart monitors (CNET article, 2016).

In the UK, the University of Lancaster experts found out that many of these trackers are inaccurate (margins of error between devices up to 25%) and not secure. Thus, they recommend standardising trackers to be of benefit to the healthcare industry.

Activity Trackers Don’t Sustain Weight Loss…

The most recent study ‘The Effect of Wearable Technology Combined with a Lifestyle Intervention on Long-Term Weight Loss: the IDEA Randomized Clinical Trial’ conducted by the University of Pittsburgh researchers, studied 470 people who followed low-calorie diets and were told to exercise more.

Six months later, half of the members self-reported their diet and exercise while the other 50% were given trackers to monitor their activities. Two years after the study and the results were in; people with fitness trackers lost less weight (7.7 lbs) while those without devices got rid of 13 lbs.

Does this mean that trackers are completely useless? Yes and no. Up to now, the study by Jakicic et al is the longest to date on the link between wearable activity trackers and weight loss. It is a benchmark for future studies to see where the benefits of technology-based fitness trackers lie.

No Evidence That Fitness Trackers Promote Health…

There is also little scientific evidence to support that activity trackers promote better health outcomes. Finkelstein et al investigated whether the use of these devices by themselves or with a combination of incentives (cash or charitable donations) can increase physical activity and improve overall health.  It suggests that the cash incentives can increase physical activity for a short time but after 6 months, this was not sustained. After a year, the tracker was effective at preventing the decrease of moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA), but there was no evidence that it improved health outcomes. Thus, the study hints that long-term incentives need to be in place to avoid reductions in physical activity.

Fitness Trackers and Wellness Coaching…

Not everything is lost with activity trackers. A study by Kiessling et al revealed that activity trackers may work when combined with coaching. In the experiment, the authors came up with a Ready to Move (RTM) Program in cooperation with the university employee wellness program. Employees and student coaches met regularly to discuss health and fitness goals and where it was not possible due to time constraints, telephone calls and online meetings were made. The use of AT increased regular physical activity among study members and 90% of participants (employees) concurred that the combination of AT usage and coaching helped them come up with successful health and fitness goals that are sustainable.