Fitness trackers not linked to weight loss, study finds

Popular fitness trackers like Fitbits, Apple watches and Nike bands may not assist users with weight loss, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Tuesday.

Researchers tracked the weight loss of 471 young adults over the course of two years. In the first six months, participants were assigned low-calorie diets and increased exercise. All participants lost weight. At six months, half of the participants were asked to self-report their diet and exercise, while the other participants were asked to wear fitness trackers on their upper arms. The trackers were different than popular trackers worn on the wrist.

While all study participants were equally active, participants with fitness trackers did not lose as much weight. Those with fitness trackers lost 7.7 pounds and those without trackers shed 13 pounds.

Lead study author John Jakicic, PhD, told NPR the discrepancies may stem from wearers feeling justified in eating more, as their tracker told them they exercised a lot in one day. In addition, goals like achieving a certain amount of steps per day may motivate individuals when actualized but deter them when unmet. 

Although the study used a fitness tracker that is worn around the upper arm, Dr. Jakicic said the results are still relevant to Fitbits and other trackers worn on the wrist. Combining fitness trackers with behavioral health research could help determine which groups benefit the most from the tracking technology, he said.   

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CDC: More than a quarter of adults over 50 get no exercise outside of daily life activities

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