Why Is This Important?
Because this flies in the face of what fitness wearables have promised all along.
Contrary to the rising popularity of fitness wearables, the technology doesn’t actually work for weight loss, according to a new study. In the research, a more traditional weight loss program was far more effective.
It makes sense. You strap something to your wrist that tells you how many steps you’ve taken, how many calories you’re burning and all kinds of other fun fitness facts. After that, you’re on your way to losing those love handles.
The problem is, fitness trackers don’t really work, according to a new study published in the Journal of Medical Association.
“The whole hypothesis was that [wearables] would be helpful, and they worked just the opposite,” said study author John Jakicic of the University of Pittsburgh, to TIME. “But that makes [the study] even more intriguing.”
Jakicic, who has ties to Weight Watchers and has received funding from wearable maker Jawbone Inc (so take that under consideration), conducted the research by getting a group of 471 adults aged 18 to 35 together who wanted to lose weight. All the participants went through your traditional low-calorie diet, peppered with more physical activity and group counselling. After six months, half of the participants added a fancy new wearable to track their progress (BodyMedia Fit activity trackers were used), while the other half started self-monitoring their diet and exercise using a website.
Following the two-year study, the people in the standard group who self-reported lost 13 pounds on average, while those who wore the wearable lost 7.7 pounds. So yeah, the wearable users lost some weight — but just over half as much. Not that much of a magic solution is it?
My first instinct as to why this might be the case was that the wearable makes you think you’re working out more, so you give yourself permission to eat more than you should. That’s what generally happens with people who exercise more.
Jakicic and his team thought more or less the same thing. They suggest that perhaps the wearable gives people a false sense of security knowing that they took a lot of steps, so they could eat more. Alternatively, another reason could be that the fitness tracker discourages rather than motivates people.
“These are people who are already struggling, and already don’t like activity,” said Jakicic to TIME. “They look down and see, ‘I am so far away from my goal today, I can’t do it.’ It could be working against them.”
The final reason why fitness trackers might not work? People get bored.
“People have a tendency to use gadgets like these for a while and then lose interest with time as the novelty wears off,” said Jakicic, as quoted by BBC News. “And we did see a drop off in the usage data as the study went on.”
So, should you give up your fitness tracker? This study is pretty small and has some issues considering the partiality of the research, so it’s very possible this research got it wrong. However, there is a tried, tested and true way to lose weight and you won’t have to shell out the dough for a wearable — just eat less calories and exercise enough.