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Don’t Buy a Fitness Tracker for Your Kid

They do more harm than good, research shows

Angela Lashbrook
OneZero
Published in
7 min readNov 27, 2019

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Credit: Annie Otzen/Getty Images

UUNICEF, the United Nations agency devoted to delivering aid to kids around the world, now makes a fitness tracker for American children. Called the “Kid Power Band,” the smart bracelet petitions kids to get active with an unconventional incentive: If they complete enough steps in one day, UNICEF will deliver a food packet to a hungry child in need. “The more kids move with the Kid Power Band, the more lives they save!” the product page declares.

Apparently it needs to be said: Compelling children to exercise by holding the lives of other kids over their heads is magnificently problematic. Children shouldn’t be held responsible for the lives of other children. But it’s also problematic for another, less obvious reason: A punitive or even rewards-based system to encourage young people to move more won’t be effective in the mid or long term, and could cause or worsen obsessive thoughts and behaviors in some kids.

Which is to say, while a Fitbit or other fitness tracker is a tempting stocking stuffer for your kid, save your money or spend it on a better activity-focused gift.

About a quarter of Americans use a fitness wearable, such as a FitBit or an Apple Watch, at least once a month, according to a 2019 report from the market research firm eMarketer. In contrast, adoption by children and teens is low, with about 3.8 million owning a wearable device. Yet interest appears to be growing, in part because of increasing concerns about obesity. Garmin released the Vivofit Jr., its first kid-centric wearable, in 2016, while Fitbit debuted the Ace in 2018. “According to the World Health Organization, childhood obesity rates are on the rise, with two out of three kids inactive every day… [parents] are concerned about their child’s weight, the food they eat, and their activity levels, as well as the rising trend of childhood obesity,” Fitbit wrote in its press release for the Ace, before saying that Fitbit created the Ace “to address this challenge.”

“Fitness trackers are unlikely to lead to long-term changes in health behaviors.”

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Angela Lashbrook
OneZero

I’m a columnist for OneZero, where I write about the intersection of health & tech. Also seen at Elemental, The Atlantic, VICE, and Vox. Brooklyn, NY.