Smartphone pedometers underestimate steps, but valuable health tool: study

UBC researchers found the iPhone underestimated steps by 21.5 per cent

A recent study looking at iPhone’s built-in pedometers is a step toward using the tool as a clinical intervention in improving people’s health, a University of B.C. researcher said.

Smartphones pose an opportunity for researchers to gather objective data on the public’s health and physical activity but before they can be used, the accuracy of the devices need to be tested, lead author Mark Duncan said in an interview Saturday.

“This was very much a first step to make sure that we understand what the data looks like and how well it represents the actual behaviour,” he said.

The study involved 33 participants testing the phones in regular living conditions and in a lab.

Comparing users’ step count on the iPhone pedometer with an accelerometer worn on their waists in their day-to-day life, the study found the iPhone was underestimating the number of steps by 21.5 per cent or 1,340 steps.

The phones fared better in lab tests where accuracy was within five per cent when users walked at a normal pace.

At a slow pace of only 2.5 kilometres an hour, the accuracy of the phones dropped between 7.6 and 9.4 per cent.

Duncan said the discrepancy is likely due to people forgetting to carry their phones at all times.

“If someone goes off to the washroom or to the kitchen and leaves their phone on their desk, obviously it’s not going to count those steps,” he said.

While the accuracy of the device isn’t strong enough to be a primary research tool, Duncan said the information is valuable for the average user interested in improving their health.

“If your goal is the standard 10,000 steps per day and the phone says you’ve completed that, chances are you’ve done a bit more which is not a bad thing for your health,” he said.

READ: Study finds dogs smarter than cats

READ: UBC ‘sailbot’ found after 18 months at sea

It could also be a tool for physicians to monitor and prescribe more activity to their patients, especially as more Canadians carry smartphones.

“There is quite a lot of research saying physicians want to be able to prescribe more physical activity and help their patients to become more physically active but they lack the time and the tools to do so,” he said. “This is potentially one tool that a health care provider could use to both assess physical activity and tell their patients to use it as a tool to increase their physical activity.”

He said now that researchers understand the accuracy of the devices, they can begin testing whether it’s effective to use smartphone pedometers as a motivational tool to increase a user’s physical activity.

Smartphones could also be used to compliment other studies by providing an indicator of participants’ past level of physical activity. Duncan said a challenge with trials is that some people increase their level of activity because researchers are monitoring them, skewing outcomes, and having that historic data can help flag a change in behaviour.

The study was published last month in the Journal of Sports Sciences.


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Actsafe BC brings expertise, new lighting to Trail theatre

Consultants are all technical directors in Vancouver theatres with years of experience in the field

Hospital improvements good news for entire region, says Trail mayor

West Kootenay-Boundary Regional Hospital District Board will review the matter next month

Life insurance can be a business expense

Tax Tips & Pits with Ron Clarke, Trail Times columnist

BC senior curling championship slides into Trail

The Trail Curling Association hosts 16 men’s and women’s teams in the senior provincial championship

Snoopy shows up in snowy Silver City

What You See: If you have a recent photo to share email (large size please) to editor@trailtimes.ca

‘Our entire municipality is heartbroken’: Seven children die in Halifax house fire

A man and woman remained in hospital Tuesday afternoon, the man with life-threatening injuries

B.C. man sues Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party over trademark

Satinder Dhillon filed application for trademark same day Maxime Bernier announced the new party

New trial ordered over banning whales, dolphins at Vancouver aquarium

Park board’s appeal reverses previous decision that found it had no right to implement a ban

Minister says plans to fight poverty, climate change, focus of B.C. budget

The NDP said in its throne speech last week that affordability will be the hallmark of its initiatives

Make sure measles shots up to date, Public Health Agency says

Measles causes high fever, coughing, sneezing and a widespread painful rash

Bomb threats, gunfire, kidnapping: Drug war rocks Kamloops

Kamloops RCMP battles a series of violent events

B.C. hotel trashes Channing Tatum in favour of Ryan Reynolds

Tatum’s picture left in recycling bin, replaced with photo of Ryan Reynolds

B.C. firefighters rescue bear cub stuck up a tree

Family Day was eventful for cub, firefighters

Payless to close 248 Canadian stores, saying it’s ‘ill-equipped’ for market

The company will begin closing stores at the end of March

Most Read