New study exposes the truth about wearable fitness devices

Within the next six years, wearable fitness devices are predicted to become a $12 billion market.

It’s no wonder, really. These days, you can’t go anywhere without noticing a Fitbit, Apple Watch or other piece of technology strapped to someone’s wrist.

Every now and then, I’ll hear someone joke about their quest to log at least 10,000 steps a day. That is, what’s the point of walking if their device isn’t fully charged and firmly secured to their body at all times?

There are many reasons why people buy these devices. But arguably the most-common is to lose weight. The thinking goes something like, "Well, if I can see my daily activity, then I’ll automatically become motivated to stop eating that extra piece of pizza or to start making it to the gym more frequently."

What really happens is that these wearable fitness devices give people a false sense of achievement — that by just wearing this little band on your wrist, the world can see how "healthy" and "active" you are.

Then you trick yourself into thinking this is the truth.

Now, of course this isn’t the case for everyone.

For some people, these devices really do help them succeed in their fitness goals.

But on average, you may be better off sticking to traditional and proven weight-loss tactics.

Because a new study from the University of Pittsburgh showed that wearable devices that monitor physical activity are not reliable tools for weight loss.

The study was done over a two-year period. At completion, researchers observed that usage of a wearable device in combination with a behavioral weight-loss program resulted in less weight loss … when compared to those receiving only the behavioral weight-loss program.

In fact, participants without physical activity trackers showed nearly twice the weight-loss benefits at the end of the 24 months.

Those subjects who wore the wearable devices reported an average weight loss of 7.7 pounds, while those who partook only in health counseling reported an average loss of 13 pounds.

"While usage of wearable devices is currently a popular method to track physical activity — steps taken per day or calories burned during a workout — our findings show that adding them to behavioral counseling (for) weight loss that includes physical activity and reduced calorie intake does not improve weight loss or physical activity engagement.

"Therefore, within this context, these devices should not be relied upon as tools for weight management in place of effective behavioral counseling for physical activity and diet," said John Jakicic, the study’s lead researcher and chair of Pitt’s Department of Health and Physical Activity.

As I said, these devices are really good at tricking you into believing that — just by wearing them — you’re somehow putting in work equal to maintaining a healthy diet and effective training program.

If you’re someone who wears a fitness tracker, it’s probably the best course of action to track your results with and without the device to see which lifestyle is personally more-effective for you.

Please let us know your experiences with wearable fitness devices by leaving a comment below.

Happy and healthy investing,
Brad Hoppmann

Your thoughts on “New study exposes the truth about wearable fitness devices”

  1. I love my “Fatbit.” I use Weight Watchers as my behavioral companion to it. I used to just guess at how far I was walking before, but now I have that 10K goal in mind every day. But I also know that I shouldn’t go eat more just because I might have had a 15K-step day. My Fitbit/WW combo helped me to lose 30 pounds this year. I had a heck of a lot harder time doing it on my own before the technology.

  2. I use an app on my smart phone to track jogging and power walking sessions. I exercised for years before I ever owned a smart phone. I like to track and compare my sessions mostly because I am a data junkie. The app records time, distance, elevation changes, calories burned, etc. It also records a map of the route.

    Exercise helps me control my weight and gives me a feeling of well-being. The data shows me that calories burned in a six-mile power walk can be more than canceled out by one Big Mac.

  3. I don’t have a weight problem, I just wear one to see how much exercise I get a day and try to top what I do get.

  4. Very interesting article. Thanks for sharing it. I don’t have a weight issue but I wear a Fitbit every day, mostly because my employer participates in a program called Vitality. If I get enough points in the program – and number of steps per day counts – then my medical insurance premium is reduced. Plus the points can be exchanged for Amazon gift cards, iPhone cards, etc. It’s also kind of interesting to see how much you have to walk to get up to 10,000 steps. It’s quite a bit.

    I think another way that fitness devices delude people is by making it seem like exercise is going to make up for eating too much. It’s not! The only way to lose weight is to get control of what one puts in ones mouth (IMHO). Exercise is just an adjunct. For instance, one Mars bar has 260 calories. You would have to walk for 45 minutes to burn that off. If you’re eating 3000 calories per day and should be eating 500, that’s a lot of exercise, which most people just don’t have the time for.

  5. My husband received a Fitbit last Christmas. Since 1/1/16 he has lost 50 pounds by giving up alcohol and eating nutritionally. I believe that the fitbit was a beneficial motivator for him daily to stay on track, as his record was graphed on his computer screen and he was proud to share the info with family and friends.
    I am proud of his results…whatever works, right?

  6. What about the group that neither used the wearable device nor had the counseling? Was there a statistically significant difference between this group and the wearable device group? If so the conclusion is counseling has greater efficacy than wearable devices rather than wearable devices provide no benefit. It would have been interesting to combine wearable devices with counseling and see if that produced significantly greater weight loss than counseling alone or wearable devices alone. Also body mass index might be a more relevant data point, as lean muscle mass also adds weight and may obscure differences if that differed between groups.

  7. My observation has been that people who purchase the devices really up their physical activity for a few weeks and then return to the exact level of effort they put in before they starting wearing the device. When I was a flight attendant we tracked our steps for the fun of it to see how many steps to Japan or Hawaii. The devices offer a little fun to see how far you walk on any given day and that may be the main benefit over time.

  8. I don’t used any of these devices because I think they probably give off some sort of electronic impusles like a cell phone, but don’t know that for sure; HOWEVER, I used to put my cell phone in my left breast shirt pocket until I found out that was a no no. So I put it in my left rear pants pocket. After about 2 weeks my siatic (sp) nerve started to hurt. Never had a problem with that before. (I’m 79 years old) So bought a case that attaches to my belt and started wearing it there. After about a month the pain in my hip went away and not any problems since.

    MY thinking is that we are bombarded all day long by all these electronic & magnetic waves that we don’t need any more. Maybe I’m all wet about this but just don’t need anything more to try and upset my normal body electronic impulses.

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