Effects of Wearable Fitness Tracker Use

Note: The intention of this blog was to focus on Fitbit in particular, however there is very little information on one specific brand. Thus, this post will focus on wearable fitness trackers as a whole.

As mentioned in a previous post, the need for wearable fitness trackers was born from a society that was becoming increasingly more health conscious. As people worked to improve their health, they turned to technology that was perceived to be helpful in motivation and tracking progress. This post will address the outcomes and effects and impacts that have been tested in relation to this technology. In the case of wearable fitness trackers, these devices allow for one’s progress to be tracked, as well as get an everyday assessment of the day’s activities (Kranz, MöLler, Hammerla, Diewald, PlöTz, Oliver & Roalter, 2013). This will look to see if these features of fitness trackers, made a lasting impression on its users.

A study done by Kranz et al. (2013) found that the use of trackers that measure the amount of steps the user takes in one day, positively influenced the user’s health. In this, people using these devices saw an increase in their physical activity while decreasing not only their body mass index, but also their systolic blood pressure – the amount of pressure in the artery when the heart contracts (Kranz et al., 2013). This study also notes the positive affect of setting a step goal, which seemed to be a determining factor in increased physical activity (Kranz et al., 2013). Although these results of this study may seem impressive, the effects felt by participants of the study were not long term. In fact, older women who had a more sedentary lifestyle prior to the study did not see lasting effects past 3 to 6 months after beginning use of their tracking devices (Kranz et al., 2013). A factor that may have contributed to this, is tracking fatigue (Kranz et al., 2013). This phenomenon occurs when a user of a fitness tracker attempts to track too many types of data (Kranz et al., 2013). Thus, the irritation of trying to keep up with varying types of information may have caused users to give up on using their device – causing an end to the positive effects that they had previously experienced.

This figure is from the study and depicts the drop out rate of participants from the study:

screen-shot-2016-11-19-at-2-45-45-pm

(Kranz et al., 2013)

Another study done on fitness trackers notes that there is a negative correlation between social aspects of fitness trackers, and childhood obesity (Miller, 2013).  Some fitness trackers – Fitbit can be used as an example of this – have the opportunity for users to compete in challenges with their friends, in an attempt to beat one another’s stats. This study utilizes this, and tests the impact it had on adolescents. In this study, middle school aged children – who are over weight – were entered into an after school club that gave them fitness trackers, and challenges to compete in with their peers (Miller, 2013). Findings in this study stated that the social aspects of being able to compete for higher step counts motivated the children to continuously use their device, and also to increase their physical activity (Miller, 2013). Another factor increased by the use of these trackers is social interaction as a whole (Miller, 2013). Students who engaged in this study were more likely to participate in social activities, than they were previous to use of the fitness tracker (Miller, 2013).  However, this study does note that these effects are only known to be short-term at this point in time, and would need to be studied further in order to determine long-term effects (Miller, 2013). This study is making way for wearables in the future which may optimize on these known effects, and create a social network devoted to physical activity.

This image shows badges and trophies that can be won in challenges between friends on the Fitbit application:

fitbit2

(Source)

In an attempt to utilize the positive social aspects of fitness trackers, a study proposes a vacation planning application that incorporates walking distance and step count goals, into planning vacations (Diewald, Möller, Roalter & Kranz, 2014). This proposition capitalizes on people’s daily step goal, and plans vacations in which people can achieve their step goal, and enjoy the scenery around them (Diewald et al., 2014). This would allow for long-term effects to occur, because the achievements earned when achieving goals with the fitness tracker would reflect in rewards on the vacation planned with the application (Diewald et al., 2014). Thus, the social aspect of the previous study would be utilized, because users of the proposed application would be able to share their achievement on social media, as well as sharing pictures from their vacation – further motivating users to be active.

Moreover, from the mentioned examples it is clear to see that the development of wearable fitness trackers has positively impacted people’s lives. People who frequently used these fitness trackers saw an improvement in health – although use of these trackers often drop off after a few months (Kranz et al., 2013). This technology also positively influenced the health and social activity of youth, as challenges presented to them motivated them to increase their step count goals, as well as socialize and form bonds with others (Miller, 2013). These positive impacts from wearable fitness trackers is – as mentioned – short-term, but the solution to this could be the trip planning application proposed by Diewald et al., (2014). This application has the potential to combine the social aspect of fitness tracker challenges, with the trips of the user’s choosing – whether it be a trip to the grocery store or a vacation. The benefits of this application would most likely reflect the short term effects discussed by previous studies, although these effects could become long-term.

Sources

Kranz, M., MöLler, A., Hammerla, N., Diewald, S., PlöTz, T., Olivier, P., & Roalter, L. (2013). The mobile fitness coach: Towards individualized skill assessment using personalized mobile devices. Pervasive and Mobile Computing, 9(2), 203-215.

Miller, A. (2013). Fitness trackers. XRDS: Crossroads, The ACM Magazine for Students, 20(2), 24-26.

Diewald, S., Möller, A., Roalter, L., & Kranz, M. (2014, September). Today, you walk!-When Physical Fitness Influences Trip Planning. In Mensch & Computer (pp. 383-386).

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