Research News

UW’s Cadmus-Bertram examines whether Fitbit really helps one get healthier

June 24, 2015

A recent study co-authored by UW-Madison’s Lisa Cadmus-Bertram that examines whether or not fitness trackers really improve health is garnering significant media attention.

Cadmus-Bertram, an assistant professor with the School of Education’s Department of Kinesiology, is the lead author of a paper appearing in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine that’s titled, “Randomized Trial of a Fitbit-Based Physical Activity Intervention for Women.”

Lisa Cadmus-Bertram
Cadmus-Bertram
As the Associated Press reports, “Sales of fitness trackers are climbing, and the biggest maker of the gadgets, Fitbit, made a splashy debut on the stock market Thursday (June 18). But will the devices really help you get healthier? Experts agree that getting people to set goals — and then reminding them of the goals — absolutely works, and the wearable devices are built to do that. But evidence that people get healthier when using fitness trackers is limited because they are new and studies of them have mostly been small or focused on specific groups of people.”

The Reuters news agency also posted an article headlined, “Fitbit use tied to increase in activity.” Reuters explains: “The Fitbit devices are small activity trackers that can be attached to clothing or worn on the wrist like a watch. They collect activity data, upload it to the Internet and produce simple graphs and charts for people to review.”

In one of the few completed clinical trials of fitness trackers, the Associated Press explains how Cadmus-Bertram’s study found that overweight middle-aged and older women who used a Fitbit got about an hour of additional exercise a week, while a group of women that were given pedometers didn't improve.

Cadmus-Bertram tells the AP that she thinks that if the women had received more support they might have experienced even bigger gains. But the study involved a specific group of women — they were around 60 years old, white and affluent. And they still didn't reach the activity goals that experts recommend.

The Reuters article begins by noting: “Postmenopausal women who are given an activity level goal for the week end up getting more activity when using a Fitbit than a traditional pedometer, according to a new study.”

“The Fitbit provides much more detailed feedback and offers more engagement than a basic step-counting pedometer,” Cadmus-Bertram tells Reuters.

And LiveScience.com posted an article that explains: “Fitness trackers have gained popularity in recent years, but it's not clear whether all this tracking is actually helping people become healthier. Now, a small new study suggests the devices can help people become more active. In the study, women who wore a Fitbit saw a boost in their physical activity over a four-month period.”

Cadmus-Bertram tells LiveScience.com: “There is nothing magic about the Fitbit. The best tracker is the one that motivates you and suits your individual lifestyle.”

The Associated Press article also notes that Cadmus-Bertram is preparing to launch additional studies on Garmin's Vivofit tracker and plans to test the LED-based heartbeat sensors in some activity trackers to see if their measurements are accurate.