Don’t expect Fit­bits to im­prove health, help drop pounds

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - MARKETPLACE - By Maria Cheng

LON­DON >> Wear­ing a fit­ness tracker may help you keep tabs on how many steps you take, but the de­vices them­selves — even with the lure of a cash re­ward — prob­a­bly won’t im­prove your health, ac­cord­ing to the big­gest study yet done on the trendy tech­nol­ogy.

Sci­en­tists say that al­though the ac­tiv­ity track­ers may boost the num­ber of steps peo­ple take, it prob­a­bly isn’t enough to help them drop pounds or im­prove over­all health.

“These are ba­si­cally mea­sur­ing de­vices,” said Eric Finkel­stein, a pro­fes­sor at Duke-NUS Med­i­cal School in Sin­ga­pore, who led the re­search. “Know­ing how ac­tive you are doesn’t trans­late into get­ting peo­ple to do more and the novelty of hav­ing that in­for­ma­tion wears off pretty quickly.”

Finkel­stein and col­leagues tested the Fit­bit Zip tracker in a group of 800 adults in Sin­ga­pore, by di­vid­ing them into four groups. Of those peo­ple, more than half were over­weight and obese and about one third were ac­tive.

A con­trol group got in­for­ma­tion about ex­er­cise but no tracker and a sec­ond group got the Fit­bit Zip; ev­ery­one in those groups also got about $2.92 a week. Par­tic­i­pants in the last two groups got the tracker and about $11 for ev­ery week they logged be­tween 50,000 and 70,000 steps. One of the groups had the money do­nated to char­ity while the other kept the cash.

Af­ter six months, peo­ple with the Fit­bit and who got the cash pay­ment showed the big­gest boost in phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity. But af­ter a year, 90 per­cent of par­tic­i­pants had aban­doned the de­vice. The phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity of theFit­bit wear­ers did not de­cline over the year as much as it did for those who were not given a tracker, but the higher ac­tiv­ity level wasn’t enough to pro­duce any im­prove­ments in weight or blood pres­sure.

“These track­ers can en­cour­age peo­ple to take more steps, but it still seems like these ran­dom ex­tra steps aren’t enough to really im­prove your health,” Finkel­stein said. He said what’s needed is more “ac­tive steps,” or what would amount to brisk walk­ing or more rig­or­ous ex­er­cise.

The study was paid for by Sin­ga­pore’s min­istry of health and pub­lished on­line Tues­day in the jour­nal Lancet Di­a­betes & En­docrinol­ogy.

The re­sults seem to re­in­force those of an­other re­cent study, pub­lished last month in the Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion. In that study, con­ducted over two years, re­searchers found that adding wear­able ac­tiv­ity track­ing de­vices to a diet and fit­ness pro­gram didn’t re­sult in more weight loss. Those who didn’t wear de­vices lost about five pounds more than those who wore them, but both groups slimmed down and im­proved their eat­ing habits, fit­ness and ac­tiv­ity lev­els.

Fit­bit, in a state­ment re­spond­ing to the study pub­lished Tues­day, said: “We are con­fi­dent in the pos­i­tive re­sults our mil­lions of users have seen from us­ing Fit­bit prod­ucts.” The state­ment went on to say that it was in the process of im­prov­ing its track­ers.

Finkel­stein said that some of the newer fit­ness track­ers have more ad­vanced fea­tures, like prompts to ex­er­cise and ways to link to so­cial me­dia, but he still thinks it is un­likely peo­ple will rad­i­cally change their ex­er­cise

regimes with­out a more com­pre­hen­sive ap­proach.

Some ex­perts said the re­sults were dis­ap­point­ing, if not un­sur­pris­ing.

“We should not be so naive to be­lieve that sim­ply by giv­ing a sleek-look­ing gad­get to some­one, they will change deeply­rooted life­style habits,” said Em­manuel Sta­matakis, a phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity ex­pert the Univer­sity of Syd­ney who was not part of the re­search.

Oth­ers said the track­ers might be more use­ful if they were aimed specif­i­cally at un­healthy peo­ple.

“Peo­ple who are ac­tive are al­ready mo­ti­vated so they don’t need these de­vices,” said Lars Bo An­der­sen, of Sogn and Fjor­dane Univer­sity Col­lege in Nor­way.

Fit­bit shares have fallen by half since the be­gin­ning of the year, to just un­der $15 a share.

AJ MAST - THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

In this Feb. 29, 2016, file photo, Brett Broviak, a man­ager of re­s­pi­ra­tory and sleep ser­vices at IU Health North Hospi­tal, shows off his Fit­bit fit­ness tracker for the cam­era on the hospi­tal’s cam­pus in Carmel, Ind. Wear­ing a stylish fit­ness tracker may help you keep tabs on things like how many steps you take, but the de­vices them­selves — even with the lure of a cash re­ward — prob­a­bly won’t im­prove your health, ac­cord­ing to the big­gest study yet done on the trendy tech­nol­ogy.

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