Wearable activity debate steps up

January 28, 2015

As with each New Year, many renew their focus on well-being. And this is evident in the numerous articles examining ways for people to be healthier, one of which is the effectiveness of wearable activity trackers.

First, there is the debate around accuracy. Amir Khan, wellness and health reporter for U.S. News & World Report, endured the awkwardness of testing five devices at once to determine their precision and assess what devices work best. While Amir’s article found the Fitbit to be lower than average, The Wall Street Journal’s Jo Craven McGinty also wrote a story citing recent research by the Centre for Public Health, School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences, Queens’ University Belfast, finding it higher than other devices.

Regardless of the conflicting data, Vitality’s Dr. Jonathan Dugas commented to Khan that there are benefits from a fitness trackers as long as it gets people moving, and they are especially useful for beginners who try to hit specific goals tied to the devices.

Secondly, the question remains around the impact on behavior change. Olga Khazan examined  in an article for The Atlantic a recently published a paper in The Journal of the American Medical Association from Dr. Kevin Volpp and others from the University of Pennsylvania. They found that while wearable devices have the potential to facilitate health behavior change, it’s not necessarily driven by these devices alone. And it’s ultimately the mix of individual encouragement, social competition and collaboration, and feedback loops that drive engagement.

Of note in Khazan’s piece is the role these technologies play in the workplace, particularly fitness competitions. The study authors recommend “Individuals form teams that provide peer support and promote a sense of accountability to use the device and stay engaged in the new behavior—perhaps aiming for everyone to achieve a minimum amount of activity (e.g., 7000 steps per day), rather than simply rewarding the power walkers.”

At Vitality, we wholeheartedly agree that (and our program is designed around) using incentives can motivate those who may not already be into fitness and keep those who have already adopted a healthy lifestyle on track. In fact, we offer a wide variety of options so that members can choose the device that best suits their lifestyle and personal preference.

We welcome the debate around mobile fitness devices and have even conducted our own research looking at how prevalent fitness devices are, who uses them, and if these technologies actually improve health.

Last fall we posed the question — Is 2015 the year of the wearable activity tracker? And from all indications, this looks to be the case.

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