Study: Overweight People Who Used Activity Tracker Lost Less Weight

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Your physical activity tracker knows a lot about you, but it apparently doesn’t know how to make you lose much weight.

It gets worse. A study published this week in JAMA found that overweight people who wore the trackers for 18 months actually lost less weight than people who logged their daily exercise manually on a study website. At the final weigh-in of the study by scientists at the University of Pittsburgh’s Physical Activity and Weight Management Research Center of 500 overweight men and woman, ages 18 to 35, those who did not wear trackers averaged about 13 pounds lost and those with trackers strapped to their upper arm averaged about 8.

“We were definitely surprised,” Dr. John Jakicic, the study’s lead author, told The New York Times.

So what happened? Data revealed that the tracker-wearers generally exercised less than the other group, perhaps deflated by tracker’s hyper-accuracy: If the study subjects monitored their output, for example, and realized their exercise goal was unattainable, they might have lost hope and  stopped.

“I am not surprised that the overall study group did not lose more weight with the monitoring device,” Dr. Paul ThompsonHartford HealthCare Heart and Vascular Institute co-physician in chief, told Medpage Today. “First, it is hard to lose weight. Second, even if the device was useful at first, such novelty usually wears off. Third, the study was composed of lots of people. Some folks like self-monitoring, some do not, so folks need to decide which group they are in before they use such a technique. I know lots of folks who love their devices and talk about them a lot. The fact that the group on average did not improve does not mean no one benefited.”

Participants actually spent two years in the study, the first six months in a basic low-calorie diet to encourage weight loss followed by increasing physical activity, with at least 100 minutes of moderate exercise weekly. They maintained food and exercise diets and, after weekly counseling, were divided into the two groups.

The takeaway: People don’t always behave rationally with an activity tracker strapped to their arm.

“I would recommend that folks try the trackers to see if they find them useful,” said Thompson. “The fact that a large group of overweight folks did not get benefit does not mean that no one in that group found them useful or that they might not be useful for folks who are not obese. I love my step counter and my bike-ride calculator. I don’t look at it every day, but often and my wife and I compete to see who has the most steps for the day.”

Medical weight loss services are available at The Hospital of Central Connecticut

For surgical weight loss options, contact Hartford Hospital


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