BG2: Fitness tech


I know of a few people that have shackled themselves to these new fitness monitors that are most often bracelets that monitor your activity and vitals, then report it back to your smart phone and/or web site for stats junkies to get their thrills.   Anna Magee writes for the Daily Mail:

Take a look around any office, gym, or High Street today and you’ll spot another kind of rubber bracelet.

Unlike the purely decorative [charity] band, these sleek rubber bands — some with a watch-like face, some just a simple bracelet — have a function.

Acting like mini personal trainers, these high-tech pedometers register calories burned, steps taken, distance travelled and even how well you’ve slept, handily logging all of the data on to an app on your smartphone.

But are they any use?  

A growing body of rather worrying research suggests that, when it comes to counting calories, some of these high-tech, high-priced gadgets — which start at around £80 [$162] and can cost several hundreds of pounds — could, in fact, be completely wide of the mark.

Just last week, a study by Iowa State University in the U.S., revealed some of the bands could overestimate wearers’ calorie burn by as much as 40 per cent — a huge margin of error when you’re trying to work out how many calories you should be consuming.

Could this be why a raft of dieters on weight-loss forums across the web are joining discussions entitled such things as ‘My Fitbit [one of the most popular brands] is making me fat!’ with tales of gaining, rather than losing, pounds?

As someone who has become a devotee of the gadgets over the past six months, I didn’t want to believe the stories.

I asked [some] manufacturers … if they could send me studies conducted by the companies proving the accuracy of their trackers. Neither supplied them. Which is when I discovered that, actually, there isn’t much evidence out there at all.

To the lab!

In order to work out which was the most accurate, I visited the lab of Dylan Thompson, professor of sport, health and exercise science at the University of Bath.

The results were not exactly impressive. For each of the activities, I ranked the trackers according to how accurate they were.

Although I’d always far prefer that something underestimated than overestimated calories burned, lulling you into a false sense of security and giving you licence to over-eat.

‘Every device will have some room for error,’ says Professor Thompson, although he points out that our trial wasn’t as controlled as a proper research experiment. That said, I wouldn’t invest in the Misfit Shine, which overestimated my calorie burn in almost every task — by more than 700 per cent in one case.

This experiment has made me question my devotion to fitness trackers. I’m not the only one. Recent research found that although sales are on the up, like gym memberships, they’re soon ditched, with a third of people abandoning theirs after only six months. I’m going back to that simple equation of moving more and eating less. It’s low-tech — but at least I know it works.


The point of this article is that if you don’t get the result you are expecting, you may also need to review how you are measuring you progress.   It appears these fitness bands are a current fad, and they hardly agree with each other let alone reality allowing for small variances.

Your body is a variable thing.  It won’t do the exact same thing under what you think are the exact same circumstances.  Calorie counting is at best a guess, so it pays to be conservative most of the time.  But in the end, the only thing that matters is that your weight goes down when you stand on the same scales.

These fitness bands will be great at giving feedback as to how well you did compared to another time period, but it appears you can not rely on them for accuracy – only relative changes between one measurement and another.

I was considering getting one, because I like data, but now I won’t.  I’ll stick to guessing and watching the weight on the scales.


– Pete

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