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photo of someone using a fitness tracker on their phone

11 Apr 2018

It’s not your fitness tracker that is wrong – it’s you

An international study has revealed that people, regardless of where they live and their age, poorly guess how physically active they actually are.

The study, led by the University of Southern California (USC), used fitness trackers to investigate how physically active people consider themselves to be, versus how physically active they really are.

The research, which was co-authored by Loughborough University’s Professor Mark Hamer and a team of international researchers, has revealed that no one gets it right.

The American responses suggest they are as active as the Dutch or the English. Older people think they are as active as young people. In reality, though, Americans are much less active than the Europeans and older people are less active than the young.

“It means people in different countries or at different age groups can have vastly different interpretations of the same survey questions,” says Arie Kapteyn, the study’s lead author and executive director of the Center for Economic and Social Research at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

Kapteyn believes the differences in fitness perceptions are driven by cultural and environmental differences.

For instance, Americans are largely dependent on cars while the Dutch frequently walk or ride bicycles to work and for simple errands, Kapteyn says.

For the study, the scientists tracked 540 participants from the United States, 748 people from the Netherlands and 254 from England.

Men and women in the study, aged 18 and above, were asked in a survey to report their physical activity on a five-point scale, ranging from inactive to very active. They also wore a fitness-tracking device on their wrist (an accelerometer) so that scientists could measure their actual physical activity over a seven-day period.

To find out more about the results of the study, read the full press release here