Despite being the main driver for wearable technology, new research suggests fitness trackers are not actually that good for helping you lose weight. But in the context of the quantified self, this matters little.
The two-year study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) took just under 500 overweight people and split them into two groups. One group was given a fitness tracker (in this case FIT Core devices), while the others were left to follow their own diet and exercise plan.
The study found that the group given the trackers lost on average 3.6kg, while the self-sufficient group lost an average of 5.9kg each.
Speaking to the BBC and others, lead researcher Dr John Jakicic suggested this difference could be down to a number of factors; usage of fitness trackers declines over time, too much focus on certain metrics that may not help weight loss, or a lack of motivation if weight loss is slow despite all exercise goals being met.
A spokesman for Jawbone, which owns BodyMedia-manufacturer FIT Core, told the Daily Mail: “The results of the study do not suggest that wearable devices should not be used for positive weight-loss outcomes.
“In fact, the study demonstrated positive weight loss in both groups. Wearable tech helps to bridge the gap between patients who have access to rather intensive weight loss treatments and the very many who don’t.”
While it’s a valid point that fitness trackers certainly don’t harm efforts to lose weight, they’re clearly not some super tool that will turn you into a 21st century technology-supported Adonis.
But does it matter? I suspect not. The quantified self is here to stay. For one, people love sharing info – how many do you see popping up on Facebook these days? Secondly, that’s valuable data for companies, who will only ever make greater effort to eke out more information from you. The lawsuit over data-gathering smart dildos is a case in point.
Just this week, MIT revealed a new way to track emotional sentiment. The suggestion that the technology could be used to make smarthomes better is somewhat terrifying, but it’s not hard to imagine people sharing their electronically-gathered emotional wellbeing with the internet at the slightest suggestion.
They may not be super effective on a personal level, but the collective impact of a quantified populace could have benefits. Apple’s ResearchKit – a way for medical researchers to collect data from iPhone users – has enabled faster collection of results on a larger scale, which can only help improve healthcare.
Phil Muncaster reports on China and beyond