Wearable Fitness Trackers – A Chicken and Egg Problem That is Solved with Coaching

Executive Summary

I know practically nothing about wearable fitness tracker technologies (e.g. fitbit, Jawbone UP, Nike FuelBand, etc.).  But I have lots of experience with health and fitness, with technology, and with helping people find their motivation.  And when I put all that experience together I see a classic chicken and egg problem with these devices.  If these things are ever going to help drive better health outcomes, they’ll need an intermediary.

Background

I am passionate about health and fitness. I’ve been in the technology business for close to 40 years. And I live to motivate people to lead a long happy life. Yet, I’ve avoided getting a fitness tracker because I find little use for them. They track lots of stuff that I do well with already (e.g. number of steps, soundness of sleep), and not enough stuff that I care about (e.g. no easy way to integrate cycling, too immature to track resistance training).

That doesn’t mean they’re not useful for people who are just beginning to adopt some new healthy habits but even if you fall in that group, their value appears limited. According to a study by the NPD group, more that 40% of fitness tracker users stop using them after 6 months.

They stop using them for lots of reasons directly related to the devices themselves. For example many are just plain ugly, charging is often a hassle, and don’t forget to take them off before you get in the shower. Even the uber-hyped Apple iWatch requires a charge every 18 hours.

But the real reason people stop using them, and this is the hypothesis of the NPD study as well, is that they do nothing to ease the change process as people try to adopt new habits. Which brings us to the…

Chicken and Egg Problem

Wearable fitness trackers provide data.  They don’t provide motivation.  Fitness tracker manufacturers hope that with enough data and today’s analytic technologies, even this country’s epidemic of lifestyle diseases can be reversed.  Yet if people aren’t collecting more than 6 months of data on their devices, the manufacturers will never collect enough data to conquer the motivation problem.

No data; no motivation.  No motivation; no data.  It’s the classic chicken and egg.

That’s Where Health Coaching Comes In

Change is hard and when it comes to our own health it becomes only more difficult as we are bombarded by information from health professionals, the media, well-meaning social contacts and now, context-ignorant fitness trackers.   Health Coach’s serve as the bridge between this typhoon of information and the realistic steps you can take to reach your goals.  They do this by helping their clients come to grips with their own  motivations for change and guiding them towards commitment.

The data offered by fitness trackers could be leveraged to maintain that commitment but today this is only possible when working with a partner who respects your values and your vision for health.

It may be that someday enough data will be available to automate the role of the health coach.  But like most “expert systems” that won’t help without getting experts involved.

So Where Does That Leave Us?

Currently there are a number of technology companies that recognize this gap.  There are apps available for smartphones and on-line tools you can use from any internet browser.

One device that intrigued me is the GOQii band.  From a tech spec perspective it is no different from the other mainstream trackers on the market.  What differentiates it from the others is that it includes a subscription to a dedicated assigned health coach that you can select based on demographic and other information you provide.

I am a Beta tester for the GOQii and will document my experience along the way.  My main interest is less in the technology and more in the type of coaching I receive based on the interaction with the device.  I’ve had the band for 48 hours now and am accumulating lots of information that I intend to share.  Stay tuned.

4 thoughts on “Wearable Fitness Trackers – A Chicken and Egg Problem That is Solved with Coaching

    1. You’d get a fitness tracker or a health coach?

      But seriously, I agree. Thus the “many are just plain ugly” comment. There are all sorts of strange iterations being tried to address. There is the iWatch which is beautiful but expensive and not ready for prime time IMO. There is the Misfit, which is a little more stylish and doesn’t have to be worn like a less stylish version of a Livestrong bracelet. There is even a company I know of that is integrating the technology into workout clothes.

      All of these solve one problem by introducing new ones. And you’re still just dealing with context-free data. And that is where the biggest problem lies.

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