Recently, The New York Times featured new research questioning the effectiveness ofactivity trackers, pushing the science and debate forward.Thanks to Dr. John Jakicic and the other researchers for doing realresearch on the obesity epidemic.

|

But, there is much more research to do to keep one of the majorbuyers of wearable health-tracking devices, employerswith wellness programs, from feeling perplexed.

|

The University of Pittsburgh Physical Activity andWeight Management Research Center conducted a two-year study,focused on two groups of overweight and obese participants — thefirst wore fitness trackers, and the second group logged activityon a website. Essentially, those who wore the monitors “generallyexercised less than those in other groups.” And lost lessweight.

|

We know exercise makes people healthier. We also know (fromdecades of research into cognitive behavioral therapy) thatmindfulness, self-tracking and clinical support can drive realchange.

|

But these researchers did what all good scientists do – theydon’t believe the hype. They set out to explore trackersspecifically on overweight and obese people.

|

Also, let’s look at categories beyond weight loss. Didparticipants get stronger – which could explain fewer pounds lost?Did their overall well-being improve? Did they develop healthiereating habits?

|

In general, behavioral science tells us that mindfulness,intrinsic motivation, and a sense of competence and control arecritical to lasting change. We also know that any well-beingprogram that feels controlling will fail to drive lasting change —and it may lead people to intentionally undermine the results.

|

|

I’m curious if an upper arm band in this setting might act likethe ankle bracelet ex-cons wear. Might participants see it asintrusive or controlling? Were they conversation pieces, or atleast relatively comfortable to wear?

|

At the very least, armbands may lead to the passivity we see sooften in clinical health care today: "I don't need to changebecause this armband/drug/surgery/treatment will fixeverything."

|

Might the act of self-reporting in the non-device group createthe opposite effect – a sense of responsibility forself-monitoring?

|

Trackers aren’t a magic bullet. People still need to do thework.

|

Wearable devices are just one tool that can give feedback, keeppeople accountable, fuel friendly competition and even add anelement of fun.

|

But the jury is out for now whether, for most people, they aresomething fun and voluntary or mandatory and controlling. (Fulldisclosure, I was a FitBit early adopter, and have worn one nearlyevery day for years, and am not currently trying to loseweight).

|

But we know it’s not all about the technology. Tools andresources, like activity trackers and online wellness programs, arethe second-most important way an organization cansupport employee well-being, but they’re only one part of thelarger picture.

|

Other missing pieces include things like social support. We knowthat this type of support is vital for making real behavior change.In fact, 70 percent of respondents in the recent Well-Being & Engagement Report said theyreceive well-being support from their peers and teammates.

|

Did the study have peer and social support built in, or was theself-monitoring a solitary activity? Were the texts and communiquespositive in tone, inspiring self-belief and confidence?

|

Simple advice for employers

As CEO of a corporate wellness technology company, I feelstrongly that employers should design positive, non-punitive "wholeperson" well-being programs — not disease-management programs thatcan be perceived as “singling out the unhealthy and weak to monitorand improve them.” A program that showcases an overwhelmingmultitude of tools or programs won’t work either.

|

Instead, employers should design wellness programs thatauthentically support the well-being of their people.

|

This includes providing well-being tools and resources — likewearable trackers and online wellness programs — that fit withinthe organization’s unique culture and budget – but that arevoluntary and accessible to all. The act ofchoosing is critically important.

|

According to the 2015 Workplace Well-Being report, when employeesfeel their employer cares about their well-being, they’re 38percent more engaged. This is good news for both the employees andthe business.

|

Wellness programs should include conscious and targetedstrategies to provide organizational support that does thefollowing:

  • Leverages leaders

  • Brings culture to life

  • Provides manager support

  • Incorporates social networks

  • Establishes supportive policies

  • Embraces teams and peers

  • Creates a supportive physical environment

  • Gives employees choice in program design and activities

Wearable devices play an important role in providingorganizational support for employees. They connect people andprovide positive watercooler discussions.

|

So read the JAMA report, assess its relevance to your company,and give employees a choice on what device or tool to use (if anyat all).

|

Giving them the tools to control their own well-being is how youcan show true commitment not just to their thinning waistlines butto their growing sense of competence. And your bottom line.

Complete your profile to continue reading and get FREE access to BenefitsPRO, part of your ALM digital membership.

  • Critical BenefitsPRO information including cutting edge post-reform success strategies, access to educational webcasts and videos, resources from industry leaders, and informative Newsletters.
  • Exclusive discounts on ALM, BenefitsPRO magazine and BenefitsPRO.com events
  • Access to other award-winning ALM websites including ThinkAdvisor.com and Law.com
NOT FOR REPRINT

© 2024 ALM Global, LLC, All Rights Reserved. Request academic re-use from www.copyright.com. All other uses, submit a request to [email protected]. For more information visit Asset & Logo Licensing.