Doctors, workplace wellness programs and insurers are increasingly recommending fitness trackers, such as Fitbits, mobile health apps and other wearable devices as a standard intervention for improving patient and employee activity levels. But do the devices have an impact on health outcomes? A new University of Florida study suggests they may not.
In a review of published studies on the effectiveness of wearable fitness devices, University of Florida researchers found no evidence that the devices improved participants’ cholesterol or blood pressure and limited evidence that the devices improve blood sugar levels among older adults with Type 2 diabetes. The findings were published online ahead of print in the American Journal of Medicine.
“Wearable devices play a role as a facilitator in motivating and accelerating physical activity, but current data do not suggest other consistent health benefits,” said the study’s lead author Dr. Ara Jo, a clinical assistant professor in the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions’ Department of Health Services Research, Management and Policy.
More and more, wearable fitness trackers are being viewed by health providers as a tool for improving the health of patients with chronic health conditions. That got Dr. Jo wondering — are the devices actually effective at preventing obesity and chronic diseases?
To find out, she reviewed 550 published research studies on the use of wearable devices. Of those, she identified six randomized controlled studies that also collected data on other measures of participants’ health. While participants in the studies she reviewed did increase their amount of physical activity and daily steps, Dr. Jo found little to no improvement in blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar.