Why Wearable Tracking Devices Don’t Work Without Behavioral Change


Do you wear a Fitbit, Jawbone, or a simple pedometer? Then you’re part of a craze for fitness-related wearable tracking technology that’s raking in millions for the companies who make them, but not necessarily making much of an impact on individual health and fitness.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia have written an opinion piece stating that there us little evidence that these devices help people change their behavior. There authors say that while the accessories may be fun and trendy, if they don’t lead to changes in exercise levels, sleep or other healthy behaviors there’s little point in wearing them.

Authors Mitesh S. Patel, MD, MBA, David A. Asch, MD, MBA, and Kevin G. Volpp, MD, PhD, wrote In their article, “The notion is that by recording and reporting information about behaviors such as physical activity or sleep patterns, these devices can educate and motivate individuals toward better habits and better health.”

These authors cautioned that “The gap between recording information and changing behavior is substantial, however, and while these devices are increasing In popularity, little evidence suggests that they are bridging the gap.”

Drs. Patel, Ash and Voip see four challenges that must be addressed for wearable technology to be effective. The first challenge is motivation – the patient must be willing to wear or use the device. Devices must also be affordable.

Second, the patient must actually wear the device on a regular basis, and since most need to be recharged, they must ensure that the device does get recharged.

Third, the decide must do what it is designed to do by accurately tracking the targeted behavior. For example, a pedometer that picks up body movements other than actual steps can make it look as though the patient is getting more exercise than they really are.

Fourth and perhaps most important is a feedback loop. Patients must get data from the device that is easily understood and that motivates them to continue with the desired action. This feedback should help fuel the patient’s motivation to improve their health in the same way a personal trainer might support someone through a physical fitness program, Drs. Patel, Asch and Volpp wrote. Ideally, the data could be transmitted to an individual’s physician for analysis and advice.

‘Although wearable devices have the potential to facilitate heath behavior change, this change may not be driven by these devices alone,” Drs. Patel, Asch and Volpp wrote. ”Ultimately, It’s the engagement strategies — the combinations of individual encouragement, social competition and collaboration, and effective feedback loops — that connect with human behavior.”  


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Used under Creative Commons Licensing courtesy of Eli Christman

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