Like a good pair of sneakers or a sports bra that actually fits, fitness trackers have long been considered a worthy investment for anyone trying to shape up. Unfortunately, a new study has found that wearing one might not help much for weight loss — in fact, it could hinder your results.
In a new paper for the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh spent two years observing 470 overweight or obese subjects between 18 and 35 years old and put them on a low-calorie diet with instructions to increase physical activity to 100 to 300 minutes a week. After keeping food and exercise diaries and attending counselling sessions, everyone lost weight.
After six months, half of the participants were assigned to monitor diet and activity online while the other half were assigned a fitness tracker (a BodyMedia Fit Core armband, which is worn on the upper arm and not the wrist like most trackers).
350 people (or 75 percent of the original group) completed the two years. Those without a tracker lost an average of 13 pounds (going from 210 to 197 on average) while those using a tracker for 18 months lost an average of 7.7 pounds (going from 212.3 to 204.5). The paper's lead author, John Jakicic, Ph.D. explained in a release that using trackers "may give people somewhat of a false sense of security that they don't pay attention to some of the key behaviors that they otherwise might pay attention to. They are relying on the device or the technology a little bit too much and that may be why we saw a little bit less weight loss in that group."
Considering the study's limitations — participants didn't start tracking activity until six months in, it was exclusive to overweight/obese subjects — this isn't a definitive call to stop using fitness trackers. Your FitBit may not be the key to dropping pounds but if it motivates you to exercise, by all means, keep counting those steps.
This story was first published on ELLE.com.
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