The number of adults struggling with obesity is on the rise. Adults who are obese are at an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, certain types of cancer, and other complications. They are also more likely to die prematurely. There are lifestyle changes that can help treat obesity, but they can be difficult to comply with in the long term. Activity trackers are wearable devices that can provide you with information about lifestyle changes by monitoring and tracking fitness-related data, such as distance walked or run and calories consumed.
Researchers wanted to investigate what impact wearable devices may have in weight loss. The study, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, found that adding an activity tracker to behavioral weight-loss intervention may not lead to more weight loss over standard behavioral weight loss approaches.
The randomized controlled trial included 471 participants with a body mass index (BMI) of 25 (overweight) to less than 40 (obese). 77% of the participants were women. All participants were placed on a low-calorie diet, prescribed increases in physical activity, and had group counseling sessions. At 6 months, 237 participants were randomized to behavioral weight-loss intervention plus a wearable web-based activity tracker and 233 were randomized to behavioral weight loss intervention alone for 24 months. The behavioral weight loss intervention group also kept diaries documenting activity. All participants had monthly sessions with telephone counseling, text messages, and access to weight loss materials and tips on a trial website for months. Their weight was measured over 24 months at 6-month intervals. Secondary outcomes included body composition, fitness, physical activity, and dietary intake.
At 24 months, participants randomized to the wearable device and accompanying web interface group lost 7.7 pounds (3.5 kg) compared to those in the conventional intervention group, who lost 13 pounds (5.9 kg). Both groups had improved body composition, fitness, physical activity, and dietary intake.
A randomized trial is considered the most reliable form of research, but how the research is done will affect its reliability. In this study, the groups both had improved body composition, fitness, physical activity, and dietary intake. This calls into question the significance of the overall weight loss numbers. It is also unknown which activities participants completed. More studies will need to be done to determine if other age groups using activity trackers experience similar results and whether the weight loss can be maintained beyond 24 months.
There are many types of activity trackers with a variety of features. If you are interested in losing weight, an activity tracker may help you keep track of your progress toward your goals. Research different models to find the one that best meets your needs and the physical activities that you enjoy. Although the results of this study did not determine that activity trackers help with weight loss, an activity tracker may be a useful component to your overall fitness plan.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Nutrition.gov—US Department of Agriculture
Jakicic JM, Davis KK, et al. Effect of wearable technology combined with a lifestyle intervention on long-term weight loss: the IDEA randomized clinical trial. JAMA. 2016 Sep 20;316(11):1161-1171.
Physical activity for weight loss. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T316888/Physical-activity-for-weight-loss. Updated November 22, 2016. Accessed December 5, 2016.
Last reviewed November 2016 by Michael Woods, MD