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Fitness Trackers Might Not Help You Lose Weight

Date: December 1, 2016      Publication: Bottom Line Personal      Source:  Mitesh Patel, MD, Perelman School of Medicine      Print:

A study published in JAMA found that dieters who wore fitness trackers for 24 months lost significantly less weight than dieters who did not—7.7 pounds versus 13 pounds, on average. Fitness trackers are wearable digital devices that measure fitness data such as the number of steps taken each day and calories burned. Their makers often boast that these devices promote weight loss, something this study calls into question.

But other research suggests that while these devices alone often are not effective, they can be paired with “engagement strategies” to promote weight loss and fitness, such as using them in a social way. Example: The tracker’s data could be shared with friends or family members for peer support…or a group of friends could wear fitness trackers and compete to see who can walk the farthest each week.

It also is worth noting that the recent study gave fitness trackers to people who already were participating in diet and exercise programs. In doing so, it might have accidentally undermined the healthy habits these people previously had established by asking them to change something that was already working.

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What to do: Before purchasing a fitness tracker, use a smartphone fitness tracker app—a popular one is Health Mate by Withings. These apps are not quite as accurate as full-fledged fitness trackers, but they are a good way for smartphone owners to confirm that they will use a tracker before investing money in one. One of the reasons that trackers sometimes are ineffective is that many people discontinue use within a few months.

As noted above, if you buy a tracker, share your tracker results with friends or, better yet, enlist those friends into a fitness-tracker competition.

Also, set reasonable fitness goals for yourself. Use your smartphone app or fitness tracker to determine your current daily activity level, and then set a personal daily target that is perhaps 1,000 to 2,000 steps above this. Increase this target slowly over time.

Source: Mitesh Patel, MD, assistant professor of medicine and health-care management at Perelman School of Medicine and The Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. He is director of the Penn Medicine Nudge Unit, which steers providers and patients toward better health decisions. HealthcareInnovation.upenn.edu