Feasibility and Effectiveness of Using Wearable Activity Trackers in Youth: A Systematic Review

JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2016 Nov 23;4(4):e129. doi: 10.2196/mhealth.6540.


Background: The proliferation and popularity of wearable activity trackers (eg, Fitbit, Jawbone, Misfit) may present an opportunity to integrate such technology into physical activity interventions. While several systematic reviews have reported intervention effects of using wearable activity trackers on adults' physical activity levels, none to date have focused specifically on children and adolescents.

Objective: The aim of this review was to examine the effectiveness of wearable activity trackers as a tool for increasing children's and adolescents' physical activity levels. We also examined the feasibility of using such technology in younger populations (age range 5-19 years).

Methods: We conducted a systematic search of 5 electronic databases, reference lists, and personal archives to identify articles published up until August 2016 that met the inclusion criteria. Articles were included if they (1) specifically examined the use of a wearable device within an intervention or a feasibility study; (2) included participants aged 5-19 years old; (3) had a measure of physical activity as an outcome variable for intervention studies; (4) reported process data concerning the feasibility of the device in feasibility studies; and (5) were published in English. Data were analyzed in August 2016.

Results: In total, we identified and analyzed 5 studies (3 intervention, 2 feasibility). Intervention delivery ranged from 19 days to 3 months, with only 1 study using a randomized controlled trial design. Wearable activity trackers were typically combined with other intervention approaches such as goal setting and researcher feedback. While intervention effects were generally positive, the reported differences were largely nonsignificant. The feasibility studies indicated that monitor comfort and design and feedback features were important factors to children and adolescents.

Conclusions: There is a paucity of research concerning the effectiveness and feasibility of wearable activity trackers as a tool for increasing children's and adolescents' physical activity levels. While there are some preliminary data to suggest these devices may have the potential to increase activity levels through self-monitoring and goal setting in the short term, more research is needed to establish longer-term effects on behavior.

Keywords: behaviour change; electronic activity monitor; mHealth; physical activity.

Publication types

  • Review