Quit Your Fitbit? Study Sheds Light on Why People Stop Using Wearables

It’s somewhat of a familiar story: You unwrap a shiny new Fitbit on Christmas morning, and it becomes your obsession for a month or so. You increase your workouts to get in those extra steps, and maybe you even diligently track your calories in the hopes of sticking to that New Year’s resolution to lose those holiday pounds. And then…you stop, and the wearable device starts to gather dust. Why does this happen? That was one of the central questions of a new study published in NEJM Catalyst. As Fierce Healthcare first reported, the study sought to figure out why people abandon the use of trackers—and what might encourage them to continue using them. “In order to derive sustained health benefits from activity sensors, it is important to understand why users often abandon their devices,” the authors explain.

Previous study results have shown, per the current study’s authors, that the average person doesn’t stick with a fitness tracker for long: “Most users report increased physical activity after purchasing a sensor, but the longer they own it, the less they use it: nearly one third of all users cease tracking activity six months after purchase.” In order to test their hypotheses about what might encourage continued use, the researchers turned to the University of Southern California (USC) Center for Body Computing and vision insurer VSP to create a step tracker that could be embedded in prescription eyeglasses. The device was linked with an app that included social networking features, and it provided prompts to users, including when someone was close to meeting an activity goal. If a participant met certain benchmarks regularly, VSP would make “a donation of a free eye exam and prescription glasses…to an underserved group of the subject’s choosing.” Notably, the study assessed personality-related measures of the 284 subjects via a questionnaire, including extraversion and openness, along with life satisfaction and “inclination to feel gratitude,” among other things. The researchers hypothesized that certain personality traits would predict longer participation, along with use of the app’s social features.

The results? Researchers found that participants who reported greater satisfaction with their lives were more likely to use the app and to record higher levels of activity, as were older participants and those who prioritized charitable giving and social relationships. Further, “motivational prompts and the number of friends, likes, and comments from the app’s social network were strong and independent predictors of higher activity levels.” What’s more, the participants found the fact that the tracker was embedded in eyeglasses, and thus didn’t require the purchase of a new device, convenient. However, the results still “did not demonstrate a measurable improvement on previous reports of user drop-off,” with technical issues with the device and app among the main reasons participants ceased use. Despite this, the researchers feel their study has promising implications for future research—and health outcomes. “The purchase of a wearable sensor reflects a desire to improve health,” they note. “It is the responsibility of medical professionals, designers, and researchers to create a user experience around the hardware and software components of the sensor that is compelling enough to help people realize these goals.”

Click here to read the Fierce Healthcare article on the wearable study.

Click here to read the NEJM Catalyst article on the wearable study.



One Comment

  1. […] Nonetheless, every step towards the insurer-pay or institution-pay market is a step in the right direction. These companies have leverage that can inspire consistent usage of Fitbit’s fitness trackers, where the company has struggled to keep owners using them on their own. […]

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