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Will latest fitness fad work as wellness tool?


Last week was great. My best day was 19,081 steps — almost twice the daily goal — and I completed over 90,000 for the week. I was off to a slower start this week but still hope to close in on 100,000.

If you know what I'm talking about, you probably have a fitness tracker on your wrist, too — or you know someone who does and bores you to death detailing their achievements.

The unobtrusive flexible bands, which often look like a watch without a face and link to smartphone apps, are escalating in popularity with close to 20 million sold last year and a projected annual growth rate of about 150%.

Like many people, I received mine as a gift and had no real desire to track my activity prior to receiving the device. Yet it's having a notably healthy influence on daily routine. I've made adjustments to my daily commute to incorporate more walking and am much more inclined to go out for a walk on a summer evening.

Actually, it's getting to the point of obsession, and a couple of nights ago I found myself pacing up and down the kitchen to ensure I met my daily steps goal before I went to bed.

There is a high drop-off rate, with many people giving up the devices after a few months of use, but if you take a look around the office or the train, you'll probably see several people wearing them.

The use of fitness trackers in corporate wellness programs should be obvious. With their focus on regular, easy-to-complete exercise, the devices should help users improve their fitness and lose weight as long as employees buy into them. And the tracking addiction they foster can go well beyond the basics of step-counting to include weight changes, sleeping patterns and other key measurements.

The net effect should be lower health care costs for employers and employees. In addition, the price of the devices is falling, with many of them retailing for under $100, so it should not be unthinkable for companies to pick up least some of the cost.

But therein, of course, lies the rub: Once employers get involved, privacy concerns arise. It's one thing to join wellness programs that might involve weight-loss goals or even biometric screening, but many employees are going to feel uncomfortable, regardless of privacy safeguards that are put in place, if they are asked to wear something akin to a tagged collar used to track wild animals.

That's unfortunate, because the fitness trackers can be a real boon to wellness efforts. Employers can use the data, even if it is analyzed on a collective basis, as an effective, real-time means of monitoring whether their wellness programs are achieving the desired result.

I could go on but I have to step away from my desk and log another 7,000 steps before the day is out.