Study: Fitness bands not as good at counting steps as smartphone apps

Counting your steps? You might be better off using your smartphone rather than a FitBit or other fitness band, according to a new study published this week.

The study in the Journal of the American Medical Association tested the accuracy of steps recorded by smartphones, pedometers and fitness bands. The Fitbit Flex, the Nike FuelBand and Jawbone UP24 were the worst performers, undercounting the number of steps by 1.5 percent to as much as 22.7 percent, according to the Guardian, which summarized the study. Fitness apps on smartphones fared better, undercounting or overcounting steps by up to about 6 percent. The pedometers and accelerometers did the best job; they miscounted by 1 percent or less.

“Our findings suggest that smartphone apps could prove to be a more widely accessible and affordable way of tracking health behaviors,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Mitesh S. Patel, assistant professor of Medicine and Health Care Management at University of Pennsylvania.

Fitness bands cost about $100 or more. The cost of one of the pedometers used in the study, the Digi-Walker SW-200, is listed at as low as $20. The apps used in the study were Fitbit, Health Mate and Moves. They’re free in the App Store.

The study involved “14 participants in 56 walking trials” on treadmills. Researchers counted steps visually and compared the numbers with those produced by the gadgets.

Update: A Fitbit spokeswoman emailed me the company’s talking points about why wearable fitness trackers are better than smartphone apps. One point: “For activity tracking apps on phones to be effective all day, the phone needs to be with you even when it might be inconvenient (such as when you’re at the gym on a machine, and smartphones are pretty inaccurate at counting steps when they’re sitting on your table) and the app needs to be launched.”


Photo of Fitbit Flex from Fitbit


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