Fitbit-free: Former users reveal their guilt

Fitbit (Fitbit/Facebook)
Fitbit (Fitbit/Facebook)

Every day, millions of people use tracking devices to monitor their health and fitness. But what happens when you give them up?

A new study has examined why people abandon self-tracking - and how they feel afterwards.

"We got curious about what it's like for people after they stop using self-tracking tools," said Sean Munson, a University of Washington (UW) assistant professor of human centered design and engineering.

"Do they feel great, do they feel guilty, do they feel like they've gotten everything they need?"

The research team surveyed 141 people who had stopped using Fitbit for at least a week. They showed the subjects' different representations of their data, to see if this information could encourage people to be healthy if presented in new ways.

Fitbit-free: Former users reveal their guilt

The Fitbit study (University of Washington)

Half of these Fitbit users described feeling guilty about their lapsed Fitbit use - and nearly all of those said they would like to return to activity tracking.

Twenty-one said they got no value out of tracking, found it annoying, or struggled to connect the data to behaviour change. Five participants felt they had learned enough about their habits, and 45 reported mixed feelings about abandoning their Fitbit.

The team found that people who felt guilty about abandoning their Fitbit use were very receptive to recommendations that they return to tracking, while people who felt they had gotten what they had wanted out of self-tracking felt those same suggestions were judgmental and unhelpful.

"People feel more guilt when it comes to abandoning health tracking, as compared to something like location tracking, which is more of a fun thing that people do for a while and move on from," said lead author Daniel Epstein, a UW doctoral student in computer science and engineering.

This shows that fitness trackers have more to do to support lapsed users.

"Right now, self-tracking apps tend to assume everyone will track forever, and that's clearly not the case," said co-author James Fogarty, a UW associate professor of computer science and engineering.

"Given that some people feel relief when they give it up, there may be better ways to help them get better value out of the data after they're done, or reconnect them to the app for week-long check-ins or periodic tune-ups that don't presume they'll be doing this every day for the rest of their lives."

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