Study: Do Fitness Trackers Even Work?

Or do they just make you look you're about to go to the gym?

September 21, 2016 9:00 am

Ours is the age of the Quantified Self.

From caloric intake to weight loss to quality of sleep, we have a national obsession with applying the rules of big data to our daily habits and bodily functions.

But is it even working? On at least one front, maybe not.

A new study of by John Jakicic of the University of Pittsburgh shows that folks using fitness trackers (like the Fitbit or Apple Watch) dropped fewer pounds than those who didn’t. Jakicic and his colleagues tracked 470 overweight individuals for more than a year.

During the first six months, the subjects didn’t use any form of tracker — just healthy diets and regular exercise under the supervision of a trainer. Over the second six months, half the group received trackers, while the other half maintained analog notes. They chose six months to introduce the variable because that’s when people at the start of an exercise routine tend to plateau. At this point, a good trainer will switch up routines and add intensity to avoid anatomical adaptation.

The results, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed that over the year, the group who used fitness trackers lost an average of 7.7 pounds, while those who didn’t lost an average of 13 pounds.

Jakicic suspects that the reasons for this are psychological. “These devices are really built for people who like activity and are motivated by this information,” Jakicic said. “For people that don’t like activity, they may look at this and go, ‘Oh, the heck with this, I’m not going to make it anyway, so why bother today.’”

While the takeaway for device makers may be to focus on psychological and behavioral motivators, we’d like to suggest you take a page from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s book, and be a simpler kind of man.

Living a healthy lifestyle isn’t complex. Stay away from sugar, live by Michael Pollan’s Food Rules (eat food, mostly plants, but not too much) and exercise often.


Win the Ultimate Formula 1® Miami Grand Prix Experience

Want the F1 experience of a lifetime? Here’s your chance to win tickets to see Turn 18 Grandstand, one of Ultimate Formula 1® Miami Grand Prix’s most premier grandstands!