Study: Fitbit doesn’t help teens exercise more

Fitbit Charge

Companies behind popular fitness trackers want you to believe that just by using their products you will be taking a better care of your health.

That apparently is not the case with the new study conducted by researchers in the UK suggesting that, in some circumstances, fitness wearables can become a de-motivating factor, after the initial novelty of wearing a tracker wears off.

The eight-week-long study, conducted by researchers at Brunel University London the University of Birmingham, was looking to investigate whether fitness wearables could encourage young teenagers to take more exercise.

Forty-four girls and 40 boys aged 13-14 from two different schools in the north and south of the UK participated in the study that was split between genders. The teenagers were asked to wear a Fitbit Charge wristband for eight weeks; to use the Fitbit app; and to take part in surveys and focus groups, before and after the trial period ended.

Although researchers expected the wearable will have a positive impact on encouraging teens to exercise more, the opposite has happened — kids felt demotivated about physical activity.

The “novelty” bump was noted “for the first few weeks” after which kids stopped exercising, even adding that Fitbit’s 10,000 steps per day target was an unfair and pressurizing goal.

“It was consistently reported that after about 4 weeks pupils became bored with the Fitbit,” the researchers write. “This evidence suggests that though the Fitbit serves to promote physical activity, for the pupils in this study, the Fitbit may have only produced modest and short-term effects.”

Study participants reported feeling like they had less choice over how to engage in physical activity — which also ended up being a demotivating factor. The Fitbit app’s built-in social tools that encourage competition with peers also negatively impacted participants’ motivation to exercise.

“Competition, peer comparison and social comparison to normative predetermined targets result in only short-term motivational effects,” the researchers added.

They also said that Fitbit’s wearable includes all of the features that could in theory help support youngsters’ “basic psychological needs” to be self-motivated to exercise.

“Young people need to see themselves as capable and confident, and the ‘origin’ of their behaviors rather than a ‘pawn’,” they said.

The study, entitled The Motivational Impact of Wearable Healthy Lifestyle Technologies: A Self-determination Perspective on Fitbits With Adolescents, is published in the American Journal of Health Education.