Though employers and health insurers are increasingly handing out wearable devices to help plan members stay healthy, wearing a Fitbit or similar device may not help you shed any pounds, according to a recent study. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh tested 470 overweight or obese adults ages 18 to 35 to test if wearable devices combined with behavioral health interventions would increase weight loss compared with those who did not wear a tracking device. The study may mean bad news for the many employers and health insurers who tout wearable devices as a way for plan members to stay engaged in their health. The study published in JAMA showed that participants were placed on a low-calorie diet, prescribed increases in exercise, and went to weekly group counseling sessions on health and nutrition for the first six months and then less frequently for the remainder of the 24-month study. At the six-month mark, participants began receiving telephone counseling sessions, text message prompts and access to study materials through a website over the next 18 months. Also at six months, half of the participants were given wearable devices to monitor their diet and exercise routines. The other half self-monitored their diet and physical activity using only a website designed for the study. At the end of the 24-month trial, participants who were given wearable devices lost an average 7.7 pounds, while those who tracked their progress through the website lost an average 13 pounds.
The findings showed that adding (wearable devices) to behavioral counseling for weight loss that includes physical activity and reduced calorie intake does not improve weight loss or physical activity engagement. Therefore, within this context, these devices should not be relied upon as tools for weight management in place of effective behavioral counseling for physical activity and diet. — JAMA, September 20, 2016, Vol 316, No. 11