Wearable exercise trackers may not increase weight loss

September 21, 2016 in Nutrition Topics in the News, Sports Nutrition and Exercise, Weight Management

Wearable exercise trackers may not increase weight loss

For young adults following a diet and exercise program, tracking activity with a wearable device may not lead to additional weight loss, according to a new study from the University of Pittsburgh.

Over 24 months, people who used wearable activity trackers lost 2.4 kilograms (5.3 pounds) less than a group on a similar program but using a website to track their progress.

The lead researchers said, based on the findings, we shouldn’t tell everyone to go and buy an activity monitor thinking it will help them to lose weight.

Although there were some study participants for whom it made a difference, more research is needed about how wearable devices lead to behavior change.

For the study, the researchers recruited 471 adults in Pittsburgh who were 18 to 35 years old and overweight to moderately obese. The whole group initially met for weekly sessions to monitor weight change and talk about diet and exercise strategies for weight loss. Over the following year and a half, groups met monthly and each participant also had monthly phone calls and weekly texts with counselors to prompt engagement in weight loss behaviors.

All participants had prescribed calorie intake goals and self-reported their intake either in diaries or on web-based platforms. They were also prescribed 100 to 300 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous exercise.

After six months, half of participants began monitoring their diet and physical activity using a website and the other half were provided with a BodyMedia Fit Core, a wearable activity tracker worn on the upper arm. The Fit Core tracks steps, hours slept and calories burned and costs about $100.

After two years, people in the wearable device group had lost an average of 3.5 kg (7.72 lb) compared to 5.9 kg (13 lb) in the group using web-based tracking only.

Both groups had improved their body composition, fitness, physical activity and diet.

Some experts feel there are many factors that affect weight loss, making it difficult to conclude that wearable devices aren’t worthwhile or aren’t necessary for people who are trying to lose weight. Plus, weight loss isn’t the only endpoint that might change with a wearable device. Physical activity can also increase.

To manage your weight, you need to eat a sensible number of calories and aim to get 30 to 60 minutes per day of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. If these wearable technologies help some people do that, then great.  If not, it’s important to find other, more meaningful, ways to track and monitor progress.

Source: JAMA, online September 20, 2016.

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