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Wrist action little help in weight loss

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Fitbits and other wearable activity tracking devices could soon join exercise bikes and ab crunch machines in the list of fitness and weight loss technologies that fail to deliver.

While the devices are sure to find their way into many Christmas stockings this year, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have questioned whether they really help to put people on a path to a leaner, fitter self.

They recruited 471 adults aged between 18 and 35 years with a body mass index of between 25 and 40. All were put on a low-calorie diet with prescribed increases in physical activity and group counselling sessions.

After six months, participants were randomly allocated to one of two groups. The first group began monitoring their diet and activity themselves, and recorded the data on a website, while the second group were given a wearable device and accompanying web technology.

While, over a two-year period, both groups recorded significant improvements in body composition, fitness, physical activity and diet, the group without the wearable devices lost an average of 5.9 kilograms, while those with the devices lost 3.5 kilograms.

The researchers admitted that the results could not be generalised to other age groups, and said the wearable technology used (attached to the upper arm) was different to more contemporary wrist-based devices.

But the results suggest people should be cautious in what benefit they expect such devices might confer in the battle against flab.

“Devices that monitor and provide feedback on physical activity may not offer an advantage over standard behavioural weight loss approaches,” they said.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Adrian Rollins