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Activity Trackers: Are They Accurate for Estimating Energy Expenditure and Beneficial for Weight Loss?

This is an excerpt from Advanced Fitness Assessment and Exercise Prescription 9th Edition With HKPropel Online Video by Ann L. Gibson,Dale R. Wagner & Vivian H. Heyward.

Being able to track energy (caloric) expenditure is of great importance for those pursuing weight loss and weight maintenance goals. Unfortunately, the technology to track energy expenditure with a high degree of accuracy consistently is still lacking. Research results are mixed on the ability of activity trackers to accurately compute TEE in controlled laboratory settings, during semistructured activities, and in free-living environments. Generally speaking, wearables that contain both heart rate sensors and accelerometers produce better estimates than accelerometry alone, and research-grade devices are more accurate than commercial devices for estimating TEE (O’Driscoll et al. 2020). Despite a plethora of activity tracker research, there is a need for studies of longer duration (e.g., 24-hour TEE) rather than studies that just measure the intensity of an activity, and we need more validation studies comparing wearables against a gold standard reference measure such as doubly labeled water (Giurgiu et al. 2022).

As with regular self-weighing to help control body weight, self-monitoring with real-time feedback from activity trackers might be expected to motivate clients to make better dietary and physical activity choices. However, research suggests that wearable trackers have a negligible effect on physical activity and weight loss; this technology might provide a modest improvement in physical activity and weight loss in the short term, but these devices do not seem to offer any benefit over traditional weight loss interventions over the long term (Goode et al. 2017; Jakicic et al. 2016).

More Excerpts From Advanced Fitness Assessment and Exercise Prescription 9th Edition With HKPropel Online Video