Researchers discovered that regular use of a fitness tracker or pedometer did not increase activity levels enough to benefit health - even when a financial reward was involved.
It’s not the first study to suggest that fitness trackers are not all they’re cracked up to be, research published in September found that fitness devices didn’t help people lose weight.
A randomised trial involving 800 full-time workers aged 21 to 65 found that, over the course of the year, volunteers who wore activity trackers recorded no change in their step count.
They did, however, moderately increase their amount of aerobic activity by an average of 16 minutes per week.
Cash incentives helped increase exercise levels at six months, but not enough to benefit health. Meanwhile 90% of participants stopped using the devices once incentives stopped.
“We found no evidence that the device promoted weight loss or improved blood pressure or cardiorespiratory fitness, either with or without financial incentives”, said lead author Professor Eric Finkelstein from Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore.
“While there was some progress early on, once the incentives were stopped, volunteers did worse than if the incentives had never been offered, and most stopped wearing the trackers.”
Approximately 40% of participants stopped using the activity tracker in the first six months and just 10% were still wearing the tracker at 12 months.
“We saw a large drop off in usage as the study went on. People use these devices for a while, but with time the novelty wears off―this is consistent with how people use trackers in real life,” added co-author Professor Robert Sloan from Kagoshima University Graduate School of Medical & Dental Sciences, Japan.
Researchers noted that because people volunteered to participate in the study, they were more likely to be healthy and motivated to be physically active than the average full-time worker.
They said this potentially limits the generalisability of the findings to other groups, but nevertheless the study, which was published in The Lancet Diabetes And Endocrinology journal, provides important insights into the use of financial incentives and the health impact of activity trackers.
It’s not the first time researchers have examined the impact of fitness trackers and unearthed negative results.
In September, University of Pittsburgh researchers published a study which found trackers were less effective at encouraging people to lose weight than following a diet and exercise plan.
Volunteers who were given fitness armbands lost less weight than those who monitored their own activity.
Scientists believe this is because people become too dependent on gadgets to help them to change their health, resulting in them developing a false sense of security. Instead, they said people should rely on their willpower.