Effects of Consumer-Wearable Activity Tracker-Based Programs on Objectively Measured Daily Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior Among School-Aged Children: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis

Sports Med Open. 2022 Jan 31;8(1):18. doi: 10.1186/s40798-021-00407-6.


Background: The popularity of consumer-wearable activity trackers has led the scientific community to conduct an increasing number of intervention studies integrating them to promote physical activity (PA) and to reduce sedentary behavior (SB) levels among school-aged children. Therefore, the aim of the present study was to estimate the effects of consumer-wearable activity tracker-based programs on daily objectively measured PA and SB among apparently healthy school-aged children, as well as to compare the influence of participants' and programs' characteristics.

Methods: Eligibility criteria were: (1) participants: apparently healthy school-aged children (< 18 years old); (2) intervention: aimed to promote PA and/or to reduce SB incorporating consumer-wearable activity trackers; (3) comparator: baseline measurements and/or a control/traditional group; (4) outcomes: objectively measured daily PA and/or SB levels; (5) study design: pre-experimental, quasi-experimental, and true-experimental trials. Relevant studies were searched from eight databases up to December 2020, as well as from four alternative modes of searching. Based on the Cochrane Risk-of-bias tool 2, the risk of bias was assessed following four domains: (1) randomization process; (2) missing outcome data; (3) measurement of the outcomes; and (4) selection of the reported results. Based on a comprehensive systematic review, meta-analyses of the Cohen's standardized mean difference (d) and 95% confidence interval (CI) with a random-effects model were conducted to estimate the overall effects, as well as the within- and between-study subgroups analyses effects, of the programs on daily total steps, moderate-to-vigorous PA (MVPA), total PA and SB.

Results: Forty-four publications (i.e., 45 studies) were included in the systematic review (5,620 unique participants; mean age = 12.85 ± 2.84 years) and 40 publications (i.e., 41 studies) in the meta-analysis. Programs had a mean length of 11.78 ± 13.17 weeks and most used a waist-worn consumer-wearable activity tracker (77.78% waist-worn; 22.22% wrist-worn). Programs characteristics were: goal-setting strategies (64.06%); participants' logbooks (56.25%); counseling sessions (62.50%); reminders (28.13%); motivational strategies (42.19%); and exercise routine (17.19%). Results showed a statistically significant moderate favorable effect on daily total steps (d = 0.612, 95% CI 0.477-0.746), small favorable effect on daily MVPA (d = 0.220, 95% CI 0.134-0.307), trivial favorable effect on daily total PA (d = 0.151, 95% CI 0.038-0.264) and trivial unfavorable effect on daily SB (d = 0.172, 95% CI 0.039-0.305). Subgroups analyses showed a higher effect for daily total steps and daily MVPA levels in females and the physically inactive for daily total steps (p = 0.003-0.044). Programs with educational counseling and/or goal-setting strategies, as well as a greater number of strategies, were more effective for improving children's daily total steps, and wrist-worn activity trackers were more effective than waist-worn trackers for improving their daily MVPA levels (p = 0.001-0.021).

Conclusions: Consumer-wearable activity tracker-based programs seem to be effective in promoting school-aged children's daily total steps and MVPA levels, especially for females and those that are physically inactive. These programs should include specific goal-setting, educational counseling, and wrist-worn trackers as especially effective strategies. However, due to the certainty of evidence being from "low" to "moderate", future well-designed primary research studies about the topic are needed.

Prospero: CRD42020222363.

Keywords: Activity monitor; Adolescents; Behavior change; Children; Fitness tracker; Goal-setting; Intervention; Self-monitoring; Wearable activity tracker.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review