Technology will never replace the age-old weight loss methods of diet and exercise, based on recent findings that found no added benefits of wearable physical activity devices on long-term weight loss.
Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, this study assessed the addition of wearable technology to standard weight loss approaches. Wearable devices like the Fitbit and Nike FuelBand were recently introduced to the market as novel tools for tracking steps, physical activity, diet and even sleep. Over the past few years, these technologies have been widely adopted in the United States and have helped millions become more aware of their physical activity and health. As a result, experts wonder if wearable devices should be incorporated into current treatment strategies to boost weight loss.
Through the IDEA trial (Innovative Approaches to Diet, Exercise and Activity), researchers randomly assigned 471 overweight and obese young adults to weight loss interventions with and without wearable devices. Over the two-year study, all participants were placed on a low-calorie diet and prescribed five hours of physical activity a week to promote weight loss. Participants also received counseling and support through in-person meetings, phone calls, text messages and educational materials.
At six months, half of participants were given a wearable physical activity device plus access to an interactive website to track their diet and exercise. The other half received access to the interactive website only.
Overall, researchers found that both groups had significant improvements in body composition, fitness, physical activity and diet over the study period. Surprisingly, however, the wearable monitor did not promote increased weight loss after two years. In fact, participants not receiving the device lost five pounds more than those who received the physical activity tracker.
Based on findings, authors conclude that devices that monitor physical activity may not offer an advantage over standard weight loss approaches. The effectiveness of weight loss interventions that incorporate a healthy diet, physical activity, counseling and support have been well established. While wearable monitors help raise awareness for physical activity, they may not move the needle when it comes to weight loss.
However, it’s important to note that the recent study included young adults aged 18–35, so findings can’t be generalized to older populations. Authors also add that the device used in this study was worn on the upper arm, which may not be as accurate as devices worn on the wrist. Thus, experts encourage future research to better undrstand the role of wearable devices when it comes to physical activity, weight loss and overall health.