Does Wearing A Fitness Tracker Help You Lose Weight?

Image: Fitbit

It's no secret that effective long-term treatments are needed to address obesity. Fitness trackers are everywhere — including apps to monitor diets. The problem is — up until now — there haven't been any long term studies to see if they actually work.

A recent study conducted over two years showed that among overweight or obese young adults, wearing a fitness tracker to track a regular exercise routine somehow resulted in less weight loss than not using the technology.

Dr John Jakicic of the University of Pittsburgh randomly assigned those in the study to either a "standard behavioral weight loss intervention" or a "technology-enhanced weight loss intervention".

Making up the study were participants with a body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 40, aged 18 to 35. 29 per cent of the group were "non-white" and 77 per cent were women. They were placed on a low-calorie diet, prescribed increases in physical activity, and had group counselling sessions. At six months into the study , telephone counselling sessions, text message prompts, and access to study materials on a website were added.

Also at six months, those in the "standard" (non-technology) group started self-monitoring their diet and physical activity using a website, and those randomly assigned to the "enhanced" (technology) intervention group were provided with a wearable device and accompanying web interface to monitor diet and physical activity.

75 per cent of participants completed the study, and the researchers found that weight change at 24 months differed significantly by intervention group.

Estimated average weights for the group using wearables were 96kg at the beginning of the study, 92kg two years later — that's an average weight loss of about 3.5kg.

The group not using wearables were an average of 95kg at the beginning of the study, and 89kg two years later — an average loss of 5.8kg At 24 months, weight loss was 5.3 lbs. That's 2.3kg lower than the group with fitness trackers and everything that comes with it.

Dr Jakicic says both groups had significant improvements in body composition, fitness, physical activity, and diet, with "no significant difference" between the groups.

"Devices that monitor and provide feedback on physical activity may not offer an advantage over standard behavioral weight loss approaches," he concluded.

Further investigation is being conducted into the reason for the difference in weight loss between the groups.

[JAMA]

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