It is unlikely to go a day without seeing a Fitbit, Nike FuelBand or other fitness trackers on someone's wrist these days. These devices and others like them are used to monitor health by promoting long-term fitness goals and digitally measuring daily exercise statistics.
"I wear it [my Fitbit] everyday. It helps me realize whether I'm actually being active or not," Sydney Johnson, a fitness tracker user, said.
However, a recent study suggests that this monitoring does not necessarily translate to users shedding actual pounds. The findings actually showed that people lost more weight when they didn't wear a fitness tracker.
The study, released this week by the Journal of the American Medical Association, followed 471 overweight and obese participants from 2010 to 2012 through a weight-loss experiment. Researchers chose participants between the ages of 18 and 35 because they assumed they would be more comfortable with using the newer technology. Two leading medical research institutions, the National Institute of Health and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, funded the study.
Participants of the study establishing regular fitness routines and low-calorie diets with the help of nutritionists and counselors. Six months in, half of the group was asked to self-monitor their progress over the next 18 months, while the rest were told to do so with a BodyMedia FIT armband – a popular fitness tracker at the time.
Those who used the devices lost an average of 7.7 lbs. Those who didn't, lost an average of 13 lbs.
The researchers were shocked.
"One thing that could be going on is that people start focusing too much on what that activity tracker is telling them, that they lose sight of other important behaviors that are key to weight management," co-author of the study and researcher of health and physical activity at the University of Pittsburgh, John Jakicic said. He has been conducting weight-management studies for over two decades now and has served on the Scientific Advisory Board for Weight Watchers International.
He suggested that those who wore the technology lost track of their dieting goals. "It's almost like it's giving them some liberty to do things that otherwise they should probably not being doing," Jakicic said. Seeing how much they exercised throughout the day provided a false sense of security, so they ate more than necessary, Jakicic explained.
The most important factor for losing weight is "100 percent diet," Adrian Kaczmarek, manager of Future Health, a wellness program that offers nutritional and fitness classes, said. "Food has such an emotional and hormonal attachment to us that we just don't know how to break it."
Popular activity trackers like Jawbone UP are meant to change lifestyle behaviors, a Jawbone spokesperson said in a statement. "What this really comes down to is the potential the UP system has to engage, motivate and change people's behavior to improve their well-being."
Jakicic says that these results don't mean that current users should ditch their devices. He says people trying to lose weight should eat healthily and adopt healthy lifestyles.
"If you're using one, and you're seeing a lot of success, continue," Jakicic said. "If you're contemplating buying one, let's make sure you understand that all of this other stuff has to take place in addition to using that tracker."
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