Study suggests that fitness trackers could make weight loss harder

If you’re trying to lose weight, you may well consider buying a fitness tracker a strong statement of intent. If you have a wristband offering a critique on your exercise (or lack of) at all times, surely this electronic judgement will give you a strong push in the right direction?

Study suggests that fitness trackers could make weight loss harder

Maybe not, according to a new paper from the University of Pittsburgh. The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed that over two years of observation, those without a wearable companion lost an average of five pounds more than those kitted out with a (now discontinued) fitness tracker.

For the research, 471 overweight or obese men and women aged 18-35 were put on a two year weight-loss program, where various vital statistics including body fat percentage, lean mass, bone density and cardiovascular fitness were tracked. For the first six months, all participants took part in the same fitness regime which gradually ramped up intensity, alongside a new diet plan. After that period, subjects were randomly divided into two groups – one set were given the Fit Core armband which automatically synced exercise data, while the others were told to self-report their exercise on a website. Both groups continued to report their eating habits manually.

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Before the division, there wasn’t a great deal of difference in the weight-loss between the two groups, but after 12 months, 18 and 24 months, the researchers found that those without the fitness tracker had kept off considerably more of the weight: 13 pounds on average, compared to the wearable users’ 7.7.fitness_trackers_dont_help_weight_loss

Are wearables giving us a false sense of security, and subconsciously making us try less hard?

Chuck out your trackers?

Not so fast. For starters, the study was ongoing between 2010 and 2014, and fitness trackers have come a long way in the meantime. The Fit Core armband is no longer manufactured for one thing (a spokesperson for Jawbone, which owns BodyMedia who made the device told the Daily Mail, “The results of the study do not suggest that wearable devices should not be used for positive weight loss outcomes.”)

Secondly, it’s not clear whether using the fitness trackers differently could present different results. And who knows how different the outcome would have been if the test group had access to wearable tech from the start of the experiment, rather than having to self-report for six months?

But what is clear from the research is that buying a fitness tracker doesn’t guarantee weight loss. If you want results, you have to put the hours in through hard graft and willpower – your commitment doesn’t end once you hand over the money and strap on the wearable.

Image: Patrik Nygren used under Creative Commons

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