In fact, participants without physical activity trackers showed nearly twice the weight loss benefits at the end of the 24 months.
Participants who used wearable devices reported an average weight loss of 7.7 pounds, while those who partook only in health counselling reported an average loss of 13 pounds.
Through these observations, researchers concluded that devices that monitor and provide feedback on physical activity do not offer an advantage over standard weight loss approaches that include behavioural counselling on physical activity and diet. Thus, while these devices allow for ease of tracking of physical activity along with feedback and encouragement, they may not enhance adherence to the tenets of a healthy lifestyle, which is the most important aspect of any weight loss regiment.
“While usage of wearable devices is currently a popular method to track physical activity — steps taken per day or calories burned during a workout — our findings show that adding them to behavioural counselling for weight loss that includes physical activity and reduced calorie intake does not improve weight loss or physical activity engagement. Therefore, within this context, these devices should not be relied upon as tools for weight management in place of effective behaviour counselling for physical activity and diet,” said John Jakicic, the study’s lead researcher and chair of Pitt’s Department of Health and Physical Activity.
All participants were placed on low-calorie diets, prescribed increases in physical activity, and received group-counselling sessions on health and nutrition. They participated in weekly health-counselling sessions for the initial six months and less frequent counselling for the last 18 months. Weight was assessed at six-month intervals throughout the 24-month trial.
Those who received health counselling throughout the study lost nearly twice as much weight as those who used wearable devices for three-quarters of it.
“The findings of our study are important because effective long-term treatments are needed to address America’s obesity epidemic,” said John Jakicic, the study’s lead researcher and chair of Pitt’s Department of Health and Physical Activity. “We’ve found that questions remain regarding the effectiveness of wearable devices and how to best use them to modify physical activity and diet behaviours in adults seeking weight loss.”