Nutrition
Friend or foe

Are activity trackers a help or a hindrance when it comes to weight loss? Kath Hudson reports

By Kath Hudson | Published in Health Club Management 2017 issue 1


Increased exercise and a low-calorie diet, supported by an activity tracking device, is less effective than the same regime supported by regular counselling, according to a two-year study from the University of Pittsburgh in the US.

For the research, participants were put on low-calorie diets and prescribed increases in physical activity – but while device users lost an average of 7.7lbs, those being counselled lost an average of 13lbs.

The study concluded that, although devices allow for easy tracking of physical activity and give feedback and encouragement, they may not enhance adherence to a healthy lifestyle – ultimately the most important aspect of any weight-loss regime.

Lead researcher John Jakicic says: “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.”

Not only that, but a growing number of media reports and internet chat forums indicate that people who have turned to trackers to help them lose weight have found their weight plateau, or even rise – an outcome generally attributed to inaccurate calorie trackers, or to the fact that any nutritional advice from the tracker is insufficiently personalised, so users tend to make the wrong food choices.

So, what advice should operators be giving their clients when it comes to using activity trackers for weight loss? Might using a tracker stop you losing weight – or worse, cause you to put it on? We ask the experts.



David Minton Director The Leisure Database Company

 

David Minton
 

It’s good that wearable technology and physical activity trackers are being debated, but we need to put them into context – we’re only at the start of the journey of their functionality. We’re at the stage where we can only use tracking information as an indication and not take it too seriously. If companies like Nike and Microsoft have withdrawn their devices, it shows we’re at a very early stage.

There’s so much confusion over healthy eating and weight management. Monitoring activity is only part of the answer and people need to be careful about setting their calorific intake based on the information from a tracker: most people tend to over-estimate their physical activity levels and under-estimate what they eat.

Going forward, to make trackers more effective, there needs to be more use of artificial intelligence. There also needs to be more gamification. This needs to be fun – it shouldn’t be boring or dreary.


"We’re at the stage where we can only use tracking information as an indication and not take it
too seriously" – David Minton




Liz Dickinson Founder and CEO Mio Global

 

Liz Dickinson
 

The majority of trackers on the market today are limited to a single objective: to provide information on steps, calories or sleep. What’s missing are the appropriate actions that must be taken to lead a healthy lifestyle. To have a significant impact as a weight-loss tool, wearables must also be able to provide personalised actions.

 It isn’t an appropriate strategy to just rely on calorie deficit as the primary means of achieving weight loss. There are complex and dynamic properties which alter how we metabolise calories, including the type of calorie composition and the individual’s physiology and genetics.

Wearables can have a significant impact as a tool for weight loss, but only if they provide both insights and personalised actions. Mio’s approach is to transform information into insights, using a scientifically-validated metric called PAI (Personal Activity Intelligence), which contextualises sensor-acquired data. Contextualising a user’s physiological habits, sleep, daily activities and exercise – all 24/7 – should positively impact the likelihood of behaviour change by providing truly personalised insights and meaningful actions.




Anna Gudmundson CEO Fitbug

 

Anna Gudmundson
 

This is a new segment that will evolve and get more accurate in terms of using the data generated. Wearables aren’t a magic wand, but they can help with a healthier lifestyle. Just like scales or a mirror, trackers can’t be weight-loss tools on their own, but they can help shift us towards a healthier lifestyle.

Education and awareness is key, and Fitbug is focused on creating programmes that have context and explanation. Working within the corporate environment rather than health clubs, we look at holistic wellness and seek to change overall health and wellbeing – not just to support weight loss.

We aim to be an education tool that helps people recognise their bad habits and address them. For example, the device made me realise how few steps I do when I’m travelling. Those using the app also receive feedback based on their behaviours – for example, suggesting fewer sugary snacks or offering tips on how to get a better night’s sleep. The more people engage, the more they get out of it.

The impact wearables can have in getting people to move more, and adopt a healthier lifestyle, should not be underestimated. Our research shows that people increase their daily average from 4,900 steps to 9,900 during a Fitbug team challenge and afterwards their activity levels remain 16 per cent higher. This won’t guarantee weight loss in itself, but it’s unquestionably an important part of achieving a healthier lifestyle.


 



Participants in a Fitbug challenge almost double their average daily steps


Dave Wright CEO MYZONE

 

Dave Wright
 

Any form of self-awareness that’s driven through the use of an activity tracker (or reminder) can help with consciousness of food habits.

However, what people don’t realise is that many trackers currently on the market are simply not accurate in their measurement of calorie burn. This lack of awareness on the part of consumers, in conjunction with a pay-back mindset (“I’ve exercised – I deserve a treat”), could certainly lead to weight gain.  

For example, if you have an accelerometer that tries to measure exertion by movement, you could be sitting on a bus to work and the bouncing of the bus could trick your tracker into clocking up 3,000 steps. You then see the calorie tracker and think you can have a bar of chocolate. 

The bottom line is that the more data points that a tracker uses, the more likely it is to measure true calorific output. Not only that, but the more data that you see, the more likely you are to change both your exercise and food habits for the better.




Andy Caddy CIO Virgin Active

 

Andy Caddy
 

The problem is that the technology is limited and over-hyped, so there’s a tendency to put too much faith in it. In five to 10 years, we’ll have the functionality we’re looking for, but at the moment it’s early days.

Steps don’t give enough insights and although people are initially excited, after a while they lose interest. When trackers can take into account nutritional and exercise knowledge, they will be able to increase engagement in a contextual way – for example, summarising what people did last week and giving them advice on how to build on that with some nutritional guidelines.


 


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SELECTED ISSUE
Health Club Management
2017 issue 1

View issue contents

Leisure Management - Friend or foe

Nutrition

Friend or foe


Are activity trackers a help or a hindrance when it comes to weight loss? Kath Hudson reports

Kath Hudson

Increased exercise and a low-calorie diet, supported by an activity tracking device, is less effective than the same regime supported by regular counselling, according to a two-year study from the University of Pittsburgh in the US.

For the research, participants were put on low-calorie diets and prescribed increases in physical activity – but while device users lost an average of 7.7lbs, those being counselled lost an average of 13lbs.

The study concluded that, although devices allow for easy tracking of physical activity and give feedback and encouragement, they may not enhance adherence to a healthy lifestyle – ultimately the most important aspect of any weight-loss regime.

Lead researcher John Jakicic says: “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.”

Not only that, but a growing number of media reports and internet chat forums indicate that people who have turned to trackers to help them lose weight have found their weight plateau, or even rise – an outcome generally attributed to inaccurate calorie trackers, or to the fact that any nutritional advice from the tracker is insufficiently personalised, so users tend to make the wrong food choices.

So, what advice should operators be giving their clients when it comes to using activity trackers for weight loss? Might using a tracker stop you losing weight – or worse, cause you to put it on? We ask the experts.



David Minton Director The Leisure Database Company

 

David Minton
 

It’s good that wearable technology and physical activity trackers are being debated, but we need to put them into context – we’re only at the start of the journey of their functionality. We’re at the stage where we can only use tracking information as an indication and not take it too seriously. If companies like Nike and Microsoft have withdrawn their devices, it shows we’re at a very early stage.

There’s so much confusion over healthy eating and weight management. Monitoring activity is only part of the answer and people need to be careful about setting their calorific intake based on the information from a tracker: most people tend to over-estimate their physical activity levels and under-estimate what they eat.

Going forward, to make trackers more effective, there needs to be more use of artificial intelligence. There also needs to be more gamification. This needs to be fun – it shouldn’t be boring or dreary.


"We’re at the stage where we can only use tracking information as an indication and not take it
too seriously" – David Minton




Liz Dickinson Founder and CEO Mio Global

 

Liz Dickinson
 

The majority of trackers on the market today are limited to a single objective: to provide information on steps, calories or sleep. What’s missing are the appropriate actions that must be taken to lead a healthy lifestyle. To have a significant impact as a weight-loss tool, wearables must also be able to provide personalised actions.

 It isn’t an appropriate strategy to just rely on calorie deficit as the primary means of achieving weight loss. There are complex and dynamic properties which alter how we metabolise calories, including the type of calorie composition and the individual’s physiology and genetics.

Wearables can have a significant impact as a tool for weight loss, but only if they provide both insights and personalised actions. Mio’s approach is to transform information into insights, using a scientifically-validated metric called PAI (Personal Activity Intelligence), which contextualises sensor-acquired data. Contextualising a user’s physiological habits, sleep, daily activities and exercise – all 24/7 – should positively impact the likelihood of behaviour change by providing truly personalised insights and meaningful actions.




Anna Gudmundson CEO Fitbug

 

Anna Gudmundson
 

This is a new segment that will evolve and get more accurate in terms of using the data generated. Wearables aren’t a magic wand, but they can help with a healthier lifestyle. Just like scales or a mirror, trackers can’t be weight-loss tools on their own, but they can help shift us towards a healthier lifestyle.

Education and awareness is key, and Fitbug is focused on creating programmes that have context and explanation. Working within the corporate environment rather than health clubs, we look at holistic wellness and seek to change overall health and wellbeing – not just to support weight loss.

We aim to be an education tool that helps people recognise their bad habits and address them. For example, the device made me realise how few steps I do when I’m travelling. Those using the app also receive feedback based on their behaviours – for example, suggesting fewer sugary snacks or offering tips on how to get a better night’s sleep. The more people engage, the more they get out of it.

The impact wearables can have in getting people to move more, and adopt a healthier lifestyle, should not be underestimated. Our research shows that people increase their daily average from 4,900 steps to 9,900 during a Fitbug team challenge and afterwards their activity levels remain 16 per cent higher. This won’t guarantee weight loss in itself, but it’s unquestionably an important part of achieving a healthier lifestyle.


 



Participants in a Fitbug challenge almost double their average daily steps


Dave Wright CEO MYZONE

 

Dave Wright
 

Any form of self-awareness that’s driven through the use of an activity tracker (or reminder) can help with consciousness of food habits.

However, what people don’t realise is that many trackers currently on the market are simply not accurate in their measurement of calorie burn. This lack of awareness on the part of consumers, in conjunction with a pay-back mindset (“I’ve exercised – I deserve a treat”), could certainly lead to weight gain.  

For example, if you have an accelerometer that tries to measure exertion by movement, you could be sitting on a bus to work and the bouncing of the bus could trick your tracker into clocking up 3,000 steps. You then see the calorie tracker and think you can have a bar of chocolate. 

The bottom line is that the more data points that a tracker uses, the more likely it is to measure true calorific output. Not only that, but the more data that you see, the more likely you are to change both your exercise and food habits for the better.




Andy Caddy CIO Virgin Active

 

Andy Caddy
 

The problem is that the technology is limited and over-hyped, so there’s a tendency to put too much faith in it. In five to 10 years, we’ll have the functionality we’re looking for, but at the moment it’s early days.

Steps don’t give enough insights and although people are initially excited, after a while they lose interest. When trackers can take into account nutritional and exercise knowledge, they will be able to increase engagement in a contextual way – for example, summarising what people did last week and giving them advice on how to build on that with some nutritional guidelines.



Originally published in Health Club Management 2017 issue 1

Published by Leisure Media Tel: +44 (0)1462 431385 | Contact us | About us | © Cybertrek Ltd