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

BREAKING: Police raid 23-year-old cannabis compassion club in Victoria

Supporters gather outside the Cannabis Buyers Club on Johnson Street

Father of murdered Realtor writes letter, pleading for help from Saanich mayor

Lindsay Buziak was stabbed to death on Feb. 2, 2008, her case remains open

Vancouver Island family reunited with Silver Cross medal after 40 years

‘It’s very moving’: Cilka LaTrace and siblings reflect on uncle’s military service medal

VIDEO: Frequent closures on Tofino-Ucluelet highway expected to continue until summer

“We’ve had 400 blasts to date and moved nearly 90,000 cubic metres of material.”

B.C. to restrict nicotine content, bring in 20% tax on vaping products

Province will also restrict candy and fruit flavoured vaping products to adult-only stores

Adoption centre closes despite effort to save it; B.C. left with two agencies

Choices Adoption and Pregnancy Counselling in Victoria was set to close in April

Renowned Island carver Simon Charlie remembered for his art and teaching

Cowichan Tribes’ carver’s birthday is Thursday

Yelling at your dog might hurt its long-term mental health: study

Researchers find dogs trained using negative reinforcement are more ‘pessimistic’

Use of force deemed justifiable in arrest of suspect after snowy chase near Nanaimo

Independent Investigation Office of B.C. reports on incident from late last winter

Man and dog safe as crews handle house fire in Nanaimo’s Old City Quarter

Firefighters were called to 400 block of Machleary Street at 11:30 p.m. Tuesday

ALLAN REID: A good time for Thai in Estevan Village

Plenty of pride on display, from food to hospitality, at Norah Thai Kitchen

Criminal injustices come alive on stage in Secret/e

Criminalization of HIV among themes in Rick Waines’ story, opening Nov. 27 at Intrepid Theatre Club

Victoria artist Blu Smith’s art evolves as he does

From pop art to realism to abstract and more, successful artist follows his muse

Most Read