80% of activity tracker users continue to utilize device for 6 months

Activity trackers aim to motivate users in exercising, but those who could benefit the most may not be able to utilize the technology. In a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania analyzed activity tracker engagement.

The study analyzed data from 2014 and 2015 for subscribers of a national health and wellness organization. Measurements were collected when participants used the activity tracker, how frequently it was used in the first six months, average daily steps and sociodemographic characteristics. Researchers hope the information provided would provide insights for future wellness programs and insurance companies in developing engagement strategies for all types of patients.

"Gamification and financial incentives are commonly used within wellness programs, but their impact has not been well studied," said Mitesh Patel, MD, MBA, MS, an assistant professor of medicine and health care management and director of Penn Medicine's Nudge Unit. "Our findings provide initial evidence suggesting that these types of engagement strategies may show promise for keeping sustained use high. However, more studies are needed to determine the best way to combine these types of engagement strategies with activity trackers to improve health outcomes."

Results showed overall activity tracker use was 1.2 percent, but doubled to 2.8 to 3.1 percent in younger participants, and 80 percent of users continued to use the device six months after activation. During the study period only 0.1 percent of participants over 65 activated the device, but of those users 90 percent continued to use the tracker six months later. Some 76 percent of participants used the Fitbit tracker, followed by Apple devices at 9 percent.

"Many people are excited by the potential of using activity trackers to monitor healthy behaviors, but there is very little evidence on who is using them and whether or not use is sustained over time," said Patel. "We found that though use grew over time, it really varied depending on individual characteristics like age and income. We also found that once someone started using an activity tracker, sustained use at six months was high at 80 percent."