Fitness trackers do not appear to improve health: Lancet

Singapore: Regularly using a wearable fitness tracker or pedometre that monitors and provides feedback on physical activity does not increase activity levels enough to benefit your health, even with the incentive of a financial reward, says a study.

The findings published in the journal The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology are based on a randomised trial involving 800 full-time workers.

“Over the course of the year-long study, volunteers who wore the activity trackers recorded no change in their step count but moderately increased their amount of aerobic activity by an average of 16 minutes per week,” explained lead author Eric Finkelstein, Professor at Duke-National University of Singapore Medical School in Singapore.

“However, we found no evidence that the device promoted weight loss or improved blood pressure or cardiorespiratory fitness, either with or without financial incentives,” Finkelstein said.

This trial of economic incentives to promote physical activity (TRIPPA) was designed to assess the extent to which an activity tracker (in this case a Fitbit Zip worn on the waist) with and without cash or charitable incentives could increase physical activity and improve health outcomes among 800 participants (aged 21 to 65 years) recruited from 13 organisations in Singapore.

The researchers also measured the amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) minutes per week (aerobic steps) as well as participants’ weight, blood pressure, cardiorespiratory fitness, and self-reported quality of life at the start of the study and six and 12 months later.

The study found that cash incentives helped increase exercise levels at six months, but not enough to benefit health, and 90 per cent of participants stopped using the devices once incentives stopped.

“While there was some progress early on, once the incentives were stopped, volunteers did worse than if the incentives had never been offered, and most stopped wearing the trackers,” Finkelstein said.