ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – John Hopkins Medicine researchers will track the physical activities and daily diet of 50 overweight freshman from Lakewood High School as part of a pilot project using Fitbit – an electronic wristband that records activity and sleep patterns.
The effort, funded by a $100,000 grant from insurer Florida Blue, is focused more on teaching healthy habits than weight loss, and is expected to be one of the first studies involving adolescence and wearable heath-related technology, Reuters reports.
“We are fully aware that this may make some families uncomfortable,” Raquel Hernandez, lead researcher on the project, told the news service.
She said a school-wide health initiative that will accompany the study is expected to destigmatize weight problems and encourage the teens to talk about the issue with peers and their families.
“It’s cool. You can wear it and it measures your activity,” said Hernandez, a professor of pediatrics at John Hopkins Medicine and a doctor at nearby All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg.
“It can also help the student know what they really are doing,” she said.
The Fitbit will monitor students’ activity levels throughout the day and while they’re sleeping. But researchers will also help students sync the devices to a MyFitnessPal app to track their daily diet.
“When a youngster’s activity level drops, researchers can send a cell phone text or Twitter message, with real-time tips on a healthy excursion or snack,” according to the news service.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity rates among adolescents has quadrupled over the past 30 years, and John Hopkins researchers are hoping to acclimate students to wearable health-related technology in anticipation of similar devices moving into the marketplace next year, including the Apple Watch.
Researchers told the news service the pilot project eliminates the need to bring students in to the doctor’s office, and they’re hoping to expand the program if it’s successful. Fitness and nutrition experts will meet with students twice a week to help keep them on track, and psychologists will meet with them after school to talk about behavior change, the news service reports.
“We are coming to where they are,” program coordinator Janelle Garcia told Reuters.
“The goal is to test the feasibility,” she said.
The feasibility of the Fitbit itself, however, isn’t exactly settled yet.
The New York Times reports the Consumer Product Safety Commission is currently investigating the Fitbit Flex after consumers complained about blisters, rashes and other problems with the device.
That investigation comes after Fitbit was plagued by the same complaints for its Fitbit Force.
“Fitbit recalled more than a million Force wristbands in February, blaming similar skin irritations on either nickel, one of the most common allergens in the United States, or the wristband’s adhesive,” according to the Times.
“My Fitbit Flex bracelet in black caused a terrible rash on my wrist and has not gone away in weeks,” one consumer posted to Saferproducts.gov, an online database run by the safety commission. “I do not know how rash came or how to get rid of it.”
Scott Wolfson, a spokesman for the government safety commission, told the Times Fitbit’s most recent troubles with the Fitbit Flex may not necessarily require a recall. The agency could simply issue recommendations to help fix the problem, such as warning users about the nickel used in the device’s clasp and encouraging proper fit.
“C.P.S.C staff is taking these incident reports involving the Flex seriously,” he said.
News reports did not specify which model of Fitbit Florida students will be using in the study.