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New study links smartwatch use to weight and BMI loss

A new study has linked smartwatch and other health wearable use to weight and BMI reduction in people who are overweight or obese.

We at Gadgets & Wearables love our smartwatch and other fitness tech. That’s because it makes fitness fun and we know it elevates our efforts at leading healthy lives. Now a new study has confirmed just how useful such technology can be for healthy weight loss.

It was published in the world-renowned British Journal of Sports Medicine (DOI: 10.1136/bjsports-2020-103594). The full paper is available to download for free in case you are interested in more details.


The study

Many of us our struggling with excess weight. As shortage of free time and fast food can often be a cause. But it could also be genetic. Whatever the reasons, the World Health Organisation estimates that some 2 billion adults globally are overweight. Yes that’s 2 BILLION! In fact, adult obesity is now more common than malnutrition.

Essential reading: Roundup of the best smart scales you can buy today

Some 650 million of this 2 billion figure are considered to be obese. Those are individuals that have a BMI of over 30 kg/m². Well, it seems that this group in particular could benefit very much from wearing a fitness tracker or smartwatch.

The researchers systematically reviewed the results of over 30 independent clinical trials, published between 2007 and 2020, and aggregated the data. This included papers from PubMed, MEDLINE, Scopus, Web of Science, Central Register of Controlled Trials, EMBASE and PsycINFO databases.

These studies looked at the impact of commercially available wearables on weight loss and involved nearly 2300 people who were overweight/obese. Wearables included anything from a research grade pedometer, to fitness bands, smart watches and more.

The paper also looks at the link between wearable use and health conditions such as various cancers, type 2 diabetes, coronary artery disease, metabolic syndrome, high cholesterol and sleep apnoea.

Participants across the various clinical trials were equipped with devices such as Fitbit, SenseWear Armband, Jawbone, Samsung Charm, FitMeter, Withings Pulse and Polar smartwatches. The periods under observation ranged anywhere from 4 weeks to a year.

To arrive at their conclusions research look at six different comparators:

  • typical care
  • physical activity alone
  • commercial wearable fitness trackers and no other components
  • research grade pedometers and no other components
  • combination of commercial fitness trackers, diet and/or counselling
  • combination of research grade pedometers, diet and/or counselling

Participants were asked to meet daily goals based on steps and to aim for the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week. The later is the minimum baseline recommendation for active adults from the US Government.


The results

The data shows that all types of wearable devices helped individuals shed weight and reduce their BMI. Periods lasting over 12 weeks produced the best results.

Interestingly, research grade pedometers on their own produced the best results. Individuals packing one of these lost an average of 4.4 kilograms. Those with commercial fitness trackers lost an average of 2.76kg.

It’s difficult to understand why this might be so. Pedometers only count steps, nothing else. Perhaps people are getting too distracted with all the bells and whistles of fitness bands and smartwatches.

As far as BMI, the results are also in favour of wearable tech. Both pedometers and more complex wearables resulted in an average BMI reduction of around 2. The star performers were those with pedometers who supplemented this with dieting and/or counselling. They reduced their BMI by a whopping 3.4.

The conclusion of the study is simply as follows.

Our study suggests that commercial health wearable devices are effective PA intervention components for body weight and BMI reduction in individuals with overweight/obesity and chronic comorbidities without other intervention components and that interventions at least 12 weeks in duration are more effective than interventions less than 12 weeks in duration for achieving this outcome.

Researchers state that they recommend clinicians and health professionals with patients with overweight/obesity and chronic comorbidities to work with them to set daily physical activity goals. And that they should consider using commercially available wearables to track and remind them of these goals.

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