Fitness Trackers Cannot Effectively Measure Calories Burned By The Wearer: Study

26 May 2017, 6:46 am EDT By Steve Bowman Tech Times
A study revealed that fitness trackers relayed accurate information about the wearers’ heart rate, but failed to report the calories burned correctly. Some of the wearables evaluated were off by as much as 93 percent.  ( Dave Kotinsky | Getty Images )

The authenticity of the data fitness trackers relay when worn during physical exercises is debatable. While some believe that these wearables provide accurate information, a new fitness trackers study reveals otherwise.

Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine conducted the new fitness trackers study. The study revealed that most fitness trackers measure heart rate accurately, but give inaccurate calorie measurements.

Fitness Trackers Measure Heart Rate Accurately

To validate their hypothesis, the researchers evaluated seven of the most popular fitness wearables, including Basis Peak, Apple Watch, Microsoft Band, Fitbit Surge, PulseOn, Mio Alpha 2, and Samsung Gear S2. The tests were conducted on 60 participants — 31 women and 29 men — who wore the trackers while performing exercises such as running and walking on a treadmill, and cycling on a stationary bicycle.

The participants were also fitted with standard medical equipment, which doctors use to measure heart rate and calorie loss accurately at the same time. To measure a subject's heart rate the researchers used an electrocardiograph. To measure a participant's energy burned, researchers deployed a device that detects the oxygen and carbon dioxide in one's breath and then calculates the calories burned.

Researchers discovered that six of the fitness trackers were able to measure heart rate accurately — with a precision of over 95 percent. Some of the brands were better at heart rate measurements than others but overall, all the devices reported relatively accurate data on heart rate.

Incidentally, the skin color and body mass index of the wearer affected the heart rate measurements.

Fitness Trackers Give Inaccurate Calorie Measurements

Although, the heart rate measurements were relatively accurate, researchers found that none of the wearables tested provided correct data regarding energy expenditure or calories burned. Even the most accurate tracker was off by 27 percent. The fitness band which performed the worst in this department was 93 percent inaccurate in its readings.

Euan Ashley, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Stanford, said that people were making life decisions based on the data these fitness trackers relay and such a high level of inaccuracy is not only unacceptable, but also endangers the lives of people using them.

"The heart rate measurements performed far better than we expected. But the energy expenditure measures were way off the mark. The magnitude of just how bad they were surprised me," Ashley added.

Researchers also stated that although technology companies claim to put the trackers against extensive testing to ensure they deliver accurate data, this may not be the case in reality. The veracity of these tests remains circumspect after the study's results.

The research was published in the Journal of Personalized Medicine on Thursday, May 24.

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