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Fitness trackers unlikely to boost health

AAP logoAAP 5/10/2016

Wearable trackers may not increase activity levels enough to significantly benefit health, researchers have said.

Pedometers are "unlikely to be a panacea for rising rates of chronic disease", experts said after a new study concluded the devices did not appear to improve the health outcomes of wearers after one year.

The study, published in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology, tracked 800 people from Singapore aged 21 to 65 to see whether using such devices improved their health.

The participants were assigned to one of four groups - a control group which had no tracker, a group which wore a Fitbit Zip device and the two final groups were given trackers and also offered financial rewards, either cash incentives for themselves or donations to charity for the first six months of the trial.

The researchers also measured participants' levels of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) a week as well as their weight, blood pressure and cardio-respiratory fitness at the start of the study and six and 12 months later.

They found that during the first six months of the study, only participants in the cash incentive group recorded increases in physical activity.

The mean daily step count among wearers was 11,010 steps in the cash group, 9280 in the charity group, and 8550 in the Fitbit group.

After a year, those in the cash incentive group had returned to the same levels of physical activity they recorded at the start of the trial.

By contrast, those in the Fitbit group showed improved levels of physical activity, recording an average of an additional 16 minutes of MVPA a week than they did at the start of the trial.

However, the authors said this increase was "probably not enough to generate noticeable improvements in any health outcomes".

They also found Fitbit and charity participants showed similar step counts to when they were measured at six months.

"Wearable activity trackers are becoming increasingly popular," the authors wrote.

"However, our results show that they are unlikely to be a panacea for rising rates of chronic disease."

A spokeswoman for Fitbit said: "As the leader in connected health and fitness, we are confident in the positive results our millions of users have seen from using Fitbit products.

"Fitbit continues to invest in the development of new devices and innovative motivational tools and social features to further enhance user engagement and help individuals achieve their health and fitness goals."

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