Fitness trackers are no magic answer for weight loss

    21 September 2016

    Wearable pedometers do not appear to help with weight loss, according to research published in JAMA.

    The two-year study, at the University of Pittsburgh, followed the progress of 500 overweight volunteers who were asked to exercise more often and go on a diet. Half of the group were given a wearable device which allowed them to monitor their own progress.

    By the end of the trial period, those in the group with pedometers had lost an average of eight pounds (3.6kg). Those without the devices lost an average of 13 pounds (5.9kg).

    Dr David Ellis, a psychologist at Lancaster University, told the BBC: ‘Fitness trackers are more likely to be bought by people who already lead a healthy lifestyle and want to monitor their progress. So it’s hard to say if they are useful for everybody.

    ‘In real life, obviously, most people won’t get the level of support to lose weight that the people in this study did. They would have to do it on their own, so wearing a device might be better than nothing.’

    Instant analysis
    So-called ‘fitness trackers’ — wearable activity monitors — have become increasingly popular to the point of almost being a fashion accessory in recent years but the evidence that these contribute significantly to people’s health has been relatively scanty.

    This large, two-year American study looking at almost 500 people suggests that, in overweight young adults, you may be better off simply sticking to old-fashioned diet and exercise rather than relying on fitness trackers to encourage weight loss.

    The reasons for this are not obvious but the novelty factor may be one — tracker usage data dropped off as the study went on — as is the possibility that those people using such trackers fixated on exercise goals and forgot that diet was just as (if not more) important.

    There is nothing here to say people should not try these devices if they want to, but they are certainly not the magic answer to helping people lose weight and achieve fitness that they are sometimes purported to be.
    Research score: 4/5