Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have just published the results of a two-year study on wearable technology and weight loss. A total of 471 participants in the study, men and women aged 18-35, were weeded down into two groups; the group using fitness trackers lost less weight on average than the ones that didn’t.
All of the initial subjects got six months of a low-calorie diet, prescribed increases in physical activity and group counseling. From that larger group subjects were selected at random for an additional 18 months of phone counseling, SMS reminders and access to either a website or a wearable device.
The results: After 2 years, the non-wearable group lost 13 lbs on average, and the wearable group only 7.7 lbs.
How could this be? The researchers, led by Dr. John Jakicic, don’t have answers but they do have some ideas. One could be a false sense of accomplishment—when subjects reached their daily fitness goals they might have rewarded themselves by eating more. It could also be that, for some participants, fitness trackers were actually a demotivating technology:
“These are people who are already struggling, and already don’t like activity,” Jakicic says. “They look down and see, ‘I am so far away from my goal today, I can’t do it.’ It could be working against them.”
If nothing else, the study shows that just buying a fitness tracker won’t magically make you lose weight. And for some dieters, in the absence of proper supervision, the data generated by these devices might inadvertently do more harm than good.