Are Health and Fitness Apps Doing Their Job?
The BBC released a sound bite report last week speculating over whether popular health and fitness apps were fit for purpose.
In a video released on BBC News, the report claimed that of over 3,013 fitness and weight management apps out there, just 17 were developed by certified health organisations. Further, the report tested several leading fitness trackers, it was found they were only 87% accurate when measuring a set length of 300 paces. Researchers speaking to the news team also claimed there's no confirmed data on the apps' effectiveness.
I have mixed feelings about this report to say the least.
For one, I couldn't care less that only 17, or 0.5%, of the apps were developed by certified health organisations, because the certification of an organisation doesn't mean it's the most trustable authority. A screaming example of this is the MyPlate template currently pedalled by the United States government. The plate places a questionable emphasis on grains, a bizarre recommendation for a dairy-based drink with every meal instead of water, and healthy fats are out of the picture altogether.
For another, highlighting a pace inaccuracy of 87% shouldn't worry you when standard caloric intake equations have an accepted deviation around 10%, and their inaccuracy can widen to up to 43% in obese populations.1 With that figure in mind, I think we can sleep at night if a Fitbit drops the ball every 10 paces on a walk to the shop.
Finally, on the researchers claim that there's no confirmed data on the apps' effectiveness: of course there isn't. The food and exercise app MyFitnessPal has over 80 million users, and I'm sure no university has the funding to capture, control, and analyze the variables around all of them.
Health and fitness apps are extremely useful tools, especially for weight management, energy balance tracking, or even a quick measurement of your resting heart rate. But it's always best not to hang your hat on things that claim to predict and "hack" your physiology. They're an educated guess at best, and no app or device can replace the individualized and dynamic advice of a qualified professional.
1. Berardi, John & Andrews, Ryan: The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition. (Precision Nutrition, 2014)