Are Fitness Trackers Good or Bad for You?

By Michele C. Hollow  @michelechollow
July 05, 2016

Some studies have shown that wearable devices don’t keep accurate counts of our steps.

Tell a devoted Fitbit owner that her device doesn’t keep an accurate count of calories burned and you’re itching for a fight. People who purchased Fitbits, Jawbones, and other fitness trackers become quite vocal about how they lost weight, feel healthier, and started a fitness routine despite studies that say these devices don’t provide users with accurate information.

Full confession: I wear a Fitbit Flex and belong to a Facebook Fitbit group with more than 38,000 members. When I posted a question about a recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine that found fitness trackers gives inaccurate data, many rushed to defend the device. 

The 38 people (and counting) who posted in the group praised their devices. They shared stories about starting and sticking to daily walks once they saw the pounds coming off. I wear my Fitbit daily and do my best to get the recommended 10,000 steps in every day.


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Like the others in the Facebook group, wearing my Fitbit Flex motivates me even though the studies showed that measurements from these devices underestimated energy expenditures by as much as 278 calories and in other cases overestimating by up to 204 calories.

The misinformation from the study motivated three people to sue Fitbit alleging that their PurePulse heart rate tracking devices “consistently mis-records heart rates.”

Tell that to the members of the Facebook Fitbit group or other devotees of the device and they’ll immediately sing its praises. One member wrote that she purchased her Fitbit Flex in 2014 and has been walking daily. “I immediately started losing weight and once I saw the weight graph on my Fitbit app going down, I got so excited that I just kept up doing what I was doing. I lost 40 pounds and have remained around 133 pounds. Fitbit changed my life!”

Fans of fitness trackers also don’t buy the research from Endeavour Partners that found one-third of American consumers who have owned a wearable fitness tracker stopped using it within six months. “That’s their fault for not using it,” said a friend of mine with a dangerously high cholesterol count. She got a Fitbit Flex for her birthday and started walking. Watching her weight go down motivated her to look at her diet. “I started to eat better,” she said. “On my next visit to my doctor, my bad cholesterol (LDL) dropped significantly.”

That has motivated my friend to keep walking — rain or shine. Motivating change is a common result of using fitness trackers.

Kelly Evenson, PhD, professor of epidemiology at UNC Gillings School of Public Health, and lead author of a study on fitness trackers, shared a few tips on how to make your fitness tracker more accurate. “Wear the tracker in the same position each day,” she said. “Enter personal details like height and weight correctly at initial set-up, and update if there is a significant change in weight.”

For those in the Facebook group, many said that they’re not dressed if they’re not wearing their tracker. “It’s a constant reminder for to me to move,” said a member. 

Personally, I believe those who have seen results are ardent supporters of their fitness devices. “My weight is where I want it to be and I have more energy,” said a fitness tracker fan.


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November 16, 2017

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN