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

UPDATE: Fire northeast of Terrace under control

The 12.1-hectare fire was first discovered Saturday morning near Cedarvale

Hazelton’s Vickers creates Grateful Dead album cover

“Unbelievable, inspiring, grounding, and very exciting,” Roy Henry Vickers says of experience

Crews fighting fire northeast of Terrace

The 10-hectare fire was discovered Saturday near the Cedarvale - Kitwanga backroad

Thornhill firefighters respond to fire at Terrace asphalt paving plant

Firefighters arrived on scene to discover an oil heater ablaze

REPLAY: B.C.’s best video this week

In case you missed it, here’s a look at replay-worthy highlights from across the province this week

Trudeau’s youth council divided over Trans Mountain pipeline purchase

A letter signed by 16 past and present members was made public today, asking the federal government to reverse course

Hulk Hogan reinstated into wrestling Hall of Fame

Hogan had used racial slurs caught on video when talking about his daughter sleeping with a black man

‘Lava bomb’ through roof of tour boat injures 22 in Hawaii

“An explosion occurred near the shoreline hurling hot lava rocks towards the boat and injuring several passengers”

B.C. teen meets Nicolas Cage

Filming mob movie in downtown Vernon, B.C.

Critics claim Trump “defended a tyrant”

Trump questions US intel, not Putin, on Russia 2016 meddling

B.C. MLAs choose new children’s watchdog

Jennifer Charlesworth has worked in government, social services

B.C. reporter calls out immigration photo on social media as fake news

A Vancouver reporter is calling out a British politician for spreading fake news

Hundreds of Arctic glaciers shrinking, disappearing

Out of 1,773 glaciers, 1,353 shrank significantly between 2000 and 2016

Most Read