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December 1, 2022

Pediatric Obesity Research Update | Wearable Devices for Preventing and Treating Obesity in Children

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Each month, the OMA Pediatric Committee reviews a pediatric-focused obesity research update to help keep you up to date about the latest findings. This month’s update addresses the effectiveness of wearable devices in treating obesity in children.

The Effectiveness of Wearable Devices as Physical Activity Interventions for Preventing and Treating Obesity in Children and Adolescents: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis

Article Summary

Wearable devices, such as pedometers and sports watches, have been used as physical activity interventions for adults. They have been shown to be effective, with statistically significant improvements in body mass index (BMI). This review demonstrates the effectiveness of wearable devices in obesity-related outcomes in children and adolescents.

Article Review

The prevalence of pediatric obesity is rising as a global public health concern. Lifestyles have changed to be more sedentary, and more serious health conditions such as hypertension and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) are being identified in our youth. Using a wearable device as a physical activity intervention has shown effectiveness in BMI reduction in adults, but to date, no reviews have been done on its effectiveness in children and adolescents. The authors of this report evaluated wearable devices as an intervention for obesity-related anthropometric outcomes in youth ages 6-18.

The authors searched five databases (PubMed, EMBASE, EBSCO, Scopus, Cochrane) to identify studies on the use of wearable devices in children and adolescents with obesity. An initial 3106 records were found, and after applying their strict selection criteria, a total of 12 studies were included in the final meta-analysis. Study inclusion criteria are as follows: 1.) Age 6-18, 2.) Intervention groups involved the use of wearable devices to track physical activity, 3.) Outcomes were obesity-related, such as BMI (BMI z-score), percent body fat, and weight, 4.) The design was a randomized control trial (RCT).

The effects of intervention showed a statistically significant decrease in BMI (10 studies), BMI-z (6 studies), body weight (5 studies), and body fat percentage (6 studies) between the wearable device groups and the control groups. The only anthropometric outcome that did not present a statistically significant difference between the two study groups was waist circumference (5 studies). The authors propose that the reason for the waist circumference outcome is that in children and adolescents, the waist circumference increases during growth and development.

This meta-analysis indicated that the use of wearable devices as physical activity interventions can have a significantly positive impact on the reduction of percent body fat, BMI, BMI-z, and body weight in children and adolescents. Furthermore, this evidence suggests that wearable devices may be useful for the treatment and prevention of childhood obesity. Further research is needed to identify the physical activity indicators (measurables) of wearable devices that convey improved health and fitness.

Additional Resources

Find more resources, curated by OMA’s Pediatric Committee, on our Pediatric Resources page. There you’ll find additional article reviews on various topics related to obesity as well as public resources for clinicians and families.

Wang W, Cheng J, Song W, Shen Y. The Effectiveness of Wearable Devices as Physical Activity Interventions for Preventing and Treating Obesity in Children and Adolescents: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2022;10(4):e32435. Published 2022 Apr 8. doi:10.2196/32435