Weight loss wearables most effective alongside additional efforts, researchers explain

By Laura Lovett
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While having a digital companion or tracker can help folks on their weight loss or maintenance journey, dieters may get the best results if they use the technology as part of an intradisciplinary approach to weight loss, according to a recent review published in Current Opinion in Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Obesity. 

“Weight management is a complex, multidisciplinary area that must be met with intervention strategies that also address behavior change,” Kaitlyn Riffenburg and Nicole Spartano, researchers from Boston University Medical School, a wrote in the review. “Furthermore, the array of new technologies available can aid in improving existing clinical programs and research methods. These technologies can be most effective for weight maintenance when used in conjunction with other behavioral strategies.”

The review article summarized the ways in which studies have integrated mobile health and wearable devices to improve weight loss. The authors said that while many health and weight loss studies have incorporated wearables, it can be difficult to assess if the devices actually lead to behavior change, since the devices are often paired with other strategies. 

“Most trials using wearable devices and other mHealth technology to target weight have embedded these devices within other behavioral interventions,” the authors wrote. “There is not sufficient evidence that wearable devices can promote sustained behavior change and long-term weight maintenance on their own. Instead, these devices can be used as facilitators of behavior change.”

Researchers noted that self-monitoring behavior can lead to eventual behavior changes, and many digital trackers and surveys can help with this. Wearable trackers can go one step further in this area and make the monitoring even easier because it takes the pressure off of the user to record. In addition, the authors wrote that published data suggest decreasing the burden on the user can lead to better adherence. 

“Two recent systematic reviews found that short-term weight-loss programs that utilized activity-tracking monitors had more success in reducing body mass and increasing physical activity,” the authors wrote. “But these studies suggest that, despite significant results, there are still not enough studies completed to determine whether the wearable devices alone are responsible for increased physical activity or whether the pairing with behavioral counseling had a greater influence on physical activity. Furthermore, populations with chronic medical illnesses must be studied specifically.”

The review goes on to discuss the combination of wearables and other interventions like financial incentives and gameification. The authors said that in these situations the tracker might not actually be responsible for changing the behavior, but could be a possible catalyst. 

“Most trials using wearable devices and other mHealth technology to target weight have embedded these devices within other behavioral interventions,” the authors wrote. “There is not sufficient evidence that wearable devices can promote sustained behavior change and long-term weight maintenance on their own. Instead, these devices can be used as facilitators of behavior change.”

Though the review is mixed on how much wearables and trackers can influence weight change on their own, the authors remain positive about how these devices could be used, specifically with other strategies. 

“Weight management is a complex, multidisciplinary area that must be met with intervention strategies that also address behavior change,” the authors wrote. “Furthermore, the array of new technologies available can aid in improving existing clinical programs and research methods. These technologies can be most effective for weight maintenance when used in conjunction with other behavioral strategies.”