Apps, Wearables Comparable to Traditional Step Trackers, Study Finds

February 12, 2015 in News

Smartphone and wearable step counters are about as accurate as more traditional pedometers, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Reuters reports.

Details of Study

For the study, researchers analyzed data from 14 volunteers, who each walked on a treadmill going three miles-per-hour for 500 steps and 1,500 steps (Rapaport, Reuters, 2/10). The volunteers then repeated each trial twice. Each participant walked while wearing:

  • A pedometer, the Yamax Digi-Walker SW-200 (Mohan, “Science Now,” Los Angeles Times, 2/10);
  • Two accelerometers, a Fitbit One and Fitbit Zip;
  • Three wristbands, a Fitbit Flex, Jawbone UP24 and Nike FuelBand;
  • An Apple iPhone 5 smartphone in one pocket that was simultaneously running three applications, Health Mate, Fitbit and Moves; and
  • A Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone in the other pocket running the Moves app.

Researchers manually counted the participants’ steps and compared the results with data from the devices.

Study Findings

The study found that the pedometer and accelerometers on average differed from the observed step count by no more than 1% (Reuters, 2/10). Specifically, the two Fitbit accelerometers most consistently aligned with the observed step count, while the Yamax pedometer was close but varied over the 56 trials (“Science Now,” Los Angeles Times, 2/10).

Researchers also found that:

  • The smartphones on average differed from the observed count by a range of 6.7% fewer steps to 6.2% additional steps, with the Galaxy app tending to count slightly fewer steps than observed and the iPhone apps tending to count slightly more (Reuters, 2/10);
  • The Fitbit Flex and Jawbone UP24 wristbands’ counts were on average slightly below the observed count and tended to have more variance across trials (“Science Now,” Los Angeles Times, 2/10); and
  • The Nike FuelBand differed from the observed count by an average of 22.7% fewer steps and had the widest variation among the devices.

Comments

Lead study author Mitesh Patel said, “Overall, smartphones and wearables are accurate for the purposes that many people need, especially for sedentary people who need to increase their activity because they are overweight or obese and simply need to know if they reached the minimum amount of activity needed to maintain good health” (Reuters, 2/10).

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