Iowa State University Tests the Accuracy of Eight Fitness Bands

“I just burned 1,100 calories,” the person next to me proudly announced at the end of Zumba class. But could she really be sure about that? Though our efforts were fairly matched, my monitor results were far different—too far to be accounted for by physiology. So which one was most accurate?

Iowa State University recently studied eight different activity monitors to determine their accuracy.  They noted, “Researchers know that people tend to overestimate their activity levels, so it is important that the monitors are accurate to eliminate that human error.” We can probably all agree that most people tend to overestimate their activity and underestimate their calorie intake.ISU-fitness-band-study-2014

A majority of the devices studied recorded a reasonably accurate account (within 10 to 15 percent) of calories burned, according to Gregory Welk, associate professor of kinesiology. The top performer was one we reviewed here previously—BodyMedia FIT—with a 9.3 percent error rating, which is comparable to research models, Welk said.

The research, published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, assessed how the devices performed for a sustained period of monitoring, instead of evaluating individual activities, to reflect better how they would perform in real-world conditions.”

However, knowing the accuracy of a fitness band is only one part of the equation for good health. “The point that a lot of people miss is that they think these devices will solve their activity problems and make them active on their own,” Welk said. “The device can be a nudge or a prompt, but it is not going to make them more active unless they change their behavior and learn from their experience.”

Even with an accurate tracking device or program, fitness and health still require hard work. In the immortal words of Cher, “Fitness: If it came in a bottle, everybody would have a great body.”