JAMA says Fitness Trackers are Worthless?
And maybe WORSE than worthless—they could actually make you more FAT! (1)
But did the JAMA study really say that? Yeah, well for my money I doubt this study truly says all some are hyping it up to say. I think some in the media wanted to jump on something that seems counterintuitive without really digging into the study.
In order to get a fair assessment, we should first look at the “fitness tracker” used and look at the features of the unit, user feedback and see.
Was it an Apple watch, Tomtom,Garmin, Fitbit that had wrist based HR monitor and GPS? It must be—because every article I saw showed a picture of one or more of those devices to depict the fitness tracker.
But with a little reading you find out no, it was none of these units and one you have likely not heard of. In fact, the tracker used in the study is off the market–a failed company.
Behold the fitness tracker that is being used to paint all others in a bad light. (Should change them to FATness trackers!)
This device is not remotely what I think of when I think of a modern fitness tracker. Let’s run down the features:
- Bulky? Check! (might as well strap an 80’s Walkman on your arm)
- Wear on Bicep? Check!
- Heart Rate Monitor? No!
- GPS? No!
- Wirelessly sync to a portal? No!
- Monthly fee for (crappy) portal? Check!
So how many fitness trackers that people are looking to buy in 2016 and beyond does this represent today? About ZERO from what I can tell.
So wait—what the heck does this thing “track”? It tracks(ed*) skin temperature, sweat and movement. So this thing is little more than a “jiggle” based monitor. Wave your arms around and weee-you done good.
It is not reasonable to compare the POS device that (poorly) tracks calories to modern fitness trackers with many more capabilities.
The armband strap (that many users in study found uncomfortable) does not track HR.
Sure the person who is not going to do a real workout –throwing a fitness tracker on them is going to do nothing.
Getting a readout on steps or calories burned during the normal course of the day is going to have people overestimate the work they have done. Wow I did 2,500 steps today! 2,500 is a lot right?
It is easy to see that someone who walked barely over a mile in a day (2,000 steps is about 1 mile) might get confused and think they are “training” when they are actually being very sedentary. Step counters and related trackers have little value in my opinion—you really need to be tracking something requiring exertion.
I think that for the enthusiast who is tracking specific activity in order to improve aspects of their fitness–this is clearly a worthless study. And I don’t think this study even aims to look into this crowd. And I think the study picked a very poor device to use.
Any runner, triathlete or person who uses modern units with HR tracking has to be in disbelief–knowing that pushing for better times, making sure you are hitting target HRs and logging miles—can’t possibly be worse than no tracking.
For the people using Fitness trackers that plug into Runlogger, Strava, Nike, Tomtom, Garmin—this study is irrelevant. Taking the media’s reactionary logic to its conclusion; don’t track reps at the gym or log miles—because tracking makes you fat.
Ah–but let’s be clear–this study says absolutely NOTHING about any of this.
What the study says in my view is that a simple crappy jiggle counter that is awkward and uncomfortable to wear adds no value. In fact people worked out less when they were using this deice.
This seems like a situation of a very bad device (not even on market) being inaccurate and over counting calories–and using its crappy outcomes to throw mud on the much new better units available now
Wrist based Heart Rate Monitoring and GPS tracking are excellent for runners and people working out in specific HR zones. It is absurd to extrapolate a study on a fitness tracker (no better than the crappy ones McD’s is giving away to kids in happy meals) to units with these new capabilities.
I’m sure fitness trackers are not a panacea to fix the ever growing obesity epidemic. The tracker is not going to get you off the couch. But the majority of users getting these trackers are not your average folks—they are dedicated enthusiasts for whom working out is not an issue. These people are concerned with setting and beating goals. For these people fitness trackers are great tools to measure goals and progress.
So relax and go get that new fitness tracker you were itching to buy until you panicked and saw the news spin-cycle this study for headlines and ratings.
The devices below ALL have wrist based HR monitoring, GPS and great portals for uploading information.
* past tense is probably the most accurate way to describe this device