The efficacy of wearable activity tracking technology as part of a weight loss program: a systematic review

J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2018 Apr;58(4):534-548. doi: 10.23736/S0022-4707.17.07437-0. Epub 2017 May 9.


Introduction: The world obesity rate has increased over the past two decades. This problem has been linked to inactivity and lack of exercise among individuals which prompted the development of wearable activity tracking technology. This technology is commonly offered as a bracelet, watch, or pendent that provides feedback of daily activity such as total step count, heart rate, and energy expenditure. Despite the popularity of these devices, their efficacy to assist in behavior change and weight loss is still being studied. The purpose of this systematic review was to appraise the current evidence on the efficacy of wearable activity devices when used in a comprehensive weigh loss program.

Evidence acquisition: A systematic review was conducted according the PRISMA guidelines. A search of electronic databases was conducted through December 2016 using the following keywords: activity monitor, consumer, wearable, technology, Fitbit®, Garmin®, Jawbone®, physical, activity, tracker, weight loss, walking, pedometer, accelerometer, step count, calories, obesity, digital, self-monitoring, and mobile health (mHealth). The grading of studies was conducted using the PEDro scale.

Evidence synthesis: We identified 7184 citations, 25 met the inclusion criteria. Twenty-one studies scored a 6 or higher and four studies scored a 5 on the PEDro scale. All subjects had a Body Mass Index (BMI) of ≥25 kg/m2 and were mostly women.

Conclusions: The results suggests that short-term (<6 months) weight loss interventions using activity trackers may be a better option than a standard weight loss program in middle age or older adults. Younger adults may not benefit from such technology.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Body Mass Index
  • Exercise / physiology
  • Female
  • Fitness Trackers*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Obesity / therapy*
  • Wearable Electronic Devices*
  • Weight Loss / physiology
  • Weight Reduction Programs / methods*