Fitness Trackers: High Tech Placebos or Coaches?
It’s hard to tell whether fitness trackers will turn out to be high tech placebos or coaches. Everything you read talks about promise and short-term outcomes — along with tech companies jostling for a competitive advantage. It’s pretty clear that physical activity monitoring technology offers plenty of promise and plenty of unfinished business.
A research letter published this week in JAMA Internal Medicine supports the idea that you should not count on the absolute accuracy of these monitors at this stage in their development. Others have warned that step counts can vary significantly. Haruka Murakami and colleagues examined the estimates for energy expenditure that they provide and concluded:
Although further studies are required, the findings presented herein suggest that most wearable devices do not produce a valid measure of total energy expenditure.
Regardless of these challenges, this technology does seem to have potential to engage people to increase their routine physical activity. A six-week randomized controlled trial in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found that a walking program augmented by activity tracking technology led people to increase their daily activity by 970 steps versus the control group.
The real promise of all this technology is engagement says Emil Chiauzzi of PatientsLikeme:
Activity monitoring has the potential to engage patients as advocates in their personalized care, as well as offer health care providers real world assessments of their patients’ daily activity patterns.
Clearly, we have a lot of unfinished business in fitness monitoring. Glittering potential and short term outcome data will mean nothing without further work to keep people engaged and deliver real health outcomes. Everyone from Google to Apple to Fitbit seems vested in working it out. Add in a few hundred million consumers who are already on board and it’s not hard to imagine that fitness monitoring might result in a bit more fitness.
We can hope.
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March 25, 2016