Analyzing the Accuracy of Activity Trackers

6-12-2013 5-39-09 PM

The New York Times reports on a study conducted at Arizona State University that pits activity trackers against one another to measure accuracy and determine if there is a performance advantage between wrist-worn versus clip-on style devices.

The study asked volunteers to wear three trackers simultaneously, two on the hip and one on the wrist. The volunteers were also wearing portable masks that measured oxygen consumption, the gold standard in determining energy output, as a control. Next, volunteers resumed daily tasks. They walked on a treadmill, cleaned a kitchen, worked on a computer, etc.

The study concluded that activity trackers are most accurate when measuring brisk activity, but that light-intensity activities like cleaning were significantly undervalued, and for armband monitors, computer work (typing) was significantly overestimated.

“There’s a growing consensus that people should spend less time in sedentary activities, like sitting, and instead stand up, stroll or sweep more. But if people get the idea from their activity monitors that such activities don’t really count, in terms of movement and calorie expenditure, it may be harder to get that message across.” – Dr. Nate Meckes – Lead researcher at Arizona State University

While the accuracy of trackers may be in question, clinicians still encourage the use of them purely for the motivational factors they introduce into one’s life.

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