Wearable Tech and Meaningful Changes in Health

Recently, our blog posts have discussed the role of technology in children’s lives today - specifically, smartphones and Internet safety. At CHIL, we’re also working with students to incorporate technology into their physical activity via our pedometer program.

 

“Wearable technology” like Fitbits and Apple Watches have exploded in popularity in recent years. Their popularity especially among students has inspired several extensive studies into the effectiveness of such devices for goals like weight loss. These studies have been published in influential publications like the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggesting their importance and relevance today. Many of these studies showed mixed results in the effect of having a Fitbit-like device on weight loss over time.

 

But it’s important to remember that while weight loss is potentially an easy, objective measure for researchers, it is not the only potential health benefit that comes from tracking day-to-day activity. It’s also not the only goal that students should have for themselves. Simply tracking physical activity can be a huge help for those who need to increase their daily activity levels - and that applies to many of us, and to students as well. Despite the federal recommendation that teens get at least one hour of exercise (moderate or rigorous) each day, 2012 data showed that only one in four teens get that hour, according to an article recently published by NPR.  The  Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also reports that nearly half of American youths aged 12-21 years are not vigorously active on a regular basis.

 

Another article in NPR weighs some of the factors that could influence the effectiveness of wearable technology for fitness or activity. For example, while meeting daily fitness goals and step counts (the popular “10K a day”) could really motivate one person, failing to meet the same goal could discourage another from continuing to wear the device altogether. Also, meeting a daily goal could actually cause a person to “reward” him/herself with more calories. How, then, can we make these gadgets more effective? According to Dr. Mitesh Patel, who was interviewed in the NPR article, these devices are basically most effective when the people using them are “already dedicated to tracking their fitness.” Beyond the initial cost of an expensive device, there has to be a motivator that continues after the novelty of the gadget wears off.


What does this mean for students who are using less-pricey tools like those in our pedometer programs? These students can probably derive most of their long-term motivation not from the promise of weight loss but from the support they get from their school, friends, and family to be more active. The CDC agrees, pointing out that “well designed school-based interventions” and “social support from family and friends” are key in increasing physical activity for all teens. Our pedometer program seeks to do just that. For more information about our pedometer program, please click here.