Wearable technology may not help people lose weight

Numerous companies have developed wearable devices in recent years to help people lose weight and improve their health. A new study, though, found that a simple behavioral weight loss intervention was a better option.

Adding wearable technology to a behavioral intervention resulted in less weight loss among young adults compared with a group that only received the standard intervention, according to a randomized trial.

Lead researcher John M. Jakicic, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh’s Physical Activity and Weight Management Research Center, and colleagues published their results online in JAMA on Sept. 20.

In this trial, known as IDEA (Innovative Approaches to Diet, Exercise and Activity), the researchers enrolled 471 adults between 18 and 35 years old at the University of Pittsburgh between October 2010 and October 2012. The participants were required to have access to cellular phone that could receive text messages and a computer with internet access. Of the participants, 77.2 percent were women and 71.1 percent were white. Their body mass index was between 25 and 40 kg/m2.

After all participants received a behavioral weight loss intervention for six months that included group sessions and dietary and physical activity interventions, the researchers randomized them to a standard behavioral weight loss intervention group or a technology-enhanced weight loss intervention group. Participants in the enhanced group received wearable technology and a web-based interface to monitor physical activity and diet. They were encouraged to use the FIT Core system (BodyMedia), which included a multisensor device that participants wore in their upper arm that provided information on energy expenditure and physical activity.

After the initial six months, all participants had access to study materials on a website as well as telephone counseling sessions once per month and text message prompts once or twice a week. They also received $5 per month to offset the cost of text messages.

After 24 months, participants in the enhanced intervention group had a mean weight loss of 7.72 lbs. (3.5 kg), while those in the standard intervention group had a mean weight loss of 13 lbs. (5.9 kg). The difference was statistically significant.

A post hoc analysis found that there was no significant weight loss difference between the groups at six months, but participants in the standard intervention group had significantly greater weight loss at 12, 18 and 24 months. Meanwhile, there were no significant differences between the groups in physical activity or dietary intake.

The researchers mentioned a few limitations of the study, including that they only enrolled young adults. Thus, the results cannot be generalized to other age groups. They also mentioned that the device was worn on the upper arm, whereas more contemporary devices are worn on the wrist. In addition, the participants did not receive the wearable device until six months into the study. Further, the participants self-reported their dietary intake.

“In this study, the addition of wearable technology to a behavioral intervention was less effective for 24-month weight loss,” the researchers wrote. “This may be a result of the technology not being as effective for changing diet or physical activity behaviors compared with what was achieved with the standard intervention; however, the study found no significant difference in these measures between the standard intervention and enhanced intervention groups. Thus, the reason for this difference in weight loss between the standard intervention and enhanced intervention groups warrants further investigation.”