By David McNamee
Wearable tech is all the rage right now, with Google Glass and now the Apple Watch being gadget fiends' latest must-have items. Electronic activity monitors may be the most popular example of health-monitoring wearable technology. A new analysis from researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston - published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research - compared 13 of these devices.
"Despite their rising popularity, little is known about how these monitors differ from one another, what options they provide in their applications and how these options may impact their effectiveness," says Elizabeth Lyons, senior author of the new study and assistant professor at the Institute for Translational Sciences at the university.
"The feedback provided by these devices can be as, if not more, comprehensive than that provided by health care professionals," she adds.
Lyons and her colleagues assessed 13 wearable activity monitors available on the consumer market. The team wanted to see how the devices may promote healthy and fit behaviors and determine how closely they match successful interventions.
The researchers also compared the functionality of the devices and their apps with clinical recommendations from health care professionals.
In their analysis, the researchers write that most of the goal-setting, self-monitoring and feedback tools in the apps bundled with the devices were consistent with the recommendations health care professionals make for their patients when promoting increase in physical activity.
Despite this, the analysis also finds that some proven successful strategies for increasing physical activity were absent from the monitors. These included:
- Action planning
- Instruction on how to do the behavior
- Commitment and problem solving.
Interestingly, though, the authors suggest that the apps with the most features may not be as useful as apps with fewer - but more effective - tools.
The researchers also consider that how successful any monitor is largely depends on matching individual preferences and needs to the functionality of the device. For instance, someone who gets most of their exercise from swimming will benefit the most from having a waterproof monitor.
Applications for activity monitors beyond aiding weight loss?
The report also contains suggestions on applications for these monitors outside of their typical role as weight loss aids.
For instance, the researchers suggest the wearable activity monitors could be useful for patients who have been released from the hospital. These patients could use the monitors to measure their recovery and quality of life.
Also, health care professionals could use data from the monitors to identify at-risk patients for secondary prevention and rehabilitation purposes.
"This content analysis provides preliminary information as to what these devices are capable of, laying a foundation for clinical, public health and rehabilitation applications. Future studies are needed to further investigate new types of electronic activity monitors and to test their feasibility, acceptability and ultimately their public health impact."
The study only looked at devices compatible with personal computers and iOS mobile devices, and the researchers admit it is possible "the experiences of Android users may differ from our experiences."