Study: Activity Trackers Alone or With Incentives Miss on Significant Impact

A new study found that “The use of a FitBit Zip activity tracker alone, or paired with monetary or charity incentives, did not have any significant impact on overall health in a randomized trial, and the wearable technology did not even boost physical activity very much,” according to MedPage Today.

The piece is titled “Effectiveness of activity trackers with and without incentives to increase physical activity (TRIPPA): a randomised controlled trial” and was published in The Lancet.

The study concludes: “The cash incentive was most effective at increasing MVPA bout min per week at 6 months, but this effect was not sustained 6 months after the incentives were discontinued. At 12 months, the activity tracker with or without charity incentives were effective at stemming the reduction in MVPA bout min per week seen in the control group, but we identified no evidence of improvements in health outcomes, either with or without incentives, calling into question the value of these devices for health promotion. Although other incentive strategies might generate greater increases in step activity and improvements in health outcomes, incentives would probably need to be in place long term to avoid any potential decrease in physical activity resulting from discontinuation.”

In other words, as MedPage reports: “At the end of six months, only those receiving the monetary incentives showed a significant increase in MVPA (moderate-to-vigorous physical activity) relative to the control group, according to Eric A. Finkelstein, PhD, of the Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore, and colleagues. There was a trend toward greater MVPA in the FitBit-only group but it failed to reach significance.”

“There were also no benefits in health markers, including blood pressure and body weight, in any of the intervention groups relative to controls.”

The Associated Press quotes Dr. Finkelstein: “”These are basically measuring devices. Knowing how active you are doesn’t translate into getting people to do more and the novelty of having that information wears off pretty quickly.”

However, to be clear, this doesn’t mean that there’s no good use for activity trackers. Indeed, we’ve reported recently on the importance of properly integrating technology into a well-run workplace wellness plan.

Further, Dr. Finkelstein said in a press release that while “activity trackers alone are not going to stem the rise in chronic diseases, they could still be part of a comprehensive solution and there may be a role for low cost incentive strategies, although they would likely have to be permanent to avoid any undermining effect from taking them away.”