Fitness trackers work best with incentives

By BenefitsPro

By Dan Cook

Wearable fitness devices are catching on, but their potential is greatly increased when they are part of an integrated wellness program that offers incentives and good feedback based upon data from multiple wearable products.

That’s the upshot of a three-year study by wellness programmer The Vitality Group, which affirmed that regardless of age or gender, more people are using some sort of wearable device to enhance their health.

Vitality has been crafting wellness programs for years, and has found that people will make better use of them when they are part of an employer program where they can be rewarded for adopting and sticking with technology to augment their workouts, diets and other behavioral change initiatives.

“Wearable technologies ultimately only work if they’re used and we wanted to determine if the hype is justified,” said Alan Pollard, CEO of The Vitality Group. “Our data shows that when incorporated as part of a broader structured program, there was a measurable change in behavior. Those using devices when paired with incentives were more likely to reduce the prevalence of key risks such as BMI and cholesterol levels.”

Because of its involvement in “structured programs,” Vitality has been able to track wearable device trends among program participants.

For instance, the study found that heart-rate monitors and gym memberships were declining even as that old stand-by, the pedometer, grew in popularity. At the other end of the tech spectrum, smartphone applications that measure or monitor fitness “skyrocketed” in popularity over the three-year study period.

Vitality was also able to compare the beneficial results of wellness programs and presented findings for two groups of high-risk health factor participants: one that engaged in some wellness activities but did not engage in physical fitness activities; and another group that participated in the fitness activities as well as other program options.

Vitality found that the first group, over time, dropped from 38 percent of the overall wellness program population to 33 percent. The second group fell from 27 percent of the overall participant population to 21 percent.

Still, “overall, members who engaged in this program reduced their number of health risk factors, with those members engaged in fitness activities seeing the greatest improvement,” Vitality said. Much of the data to support these improvements was gathered by wearable devices.

Among other highlights of the study:
  • Among participants in Vitality wellness programs, a high proportion of those who use devices are overweight or obese. Sixty-seven percent of people who use a pedometer or activity tracker are overweight, 62 percent of those who use a heart-rate monitor are obese, and 63 percent of those who use a smartphone are obese.

  • Members not previously engaged in fitness activities who use devices reduced their health risk factors by 13 percent, and members already active in fitness saw the greatest improvement, reducing their factors by 22 percent.

  • More than 30 percent of pedometer and activity tracker users are 35-44.

  • 65 percent of smart phone users are in the 18-34 age bracket.

  • Incentive structures built around daily step counts motivated members to reach thresholds.
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