Fitbit data to be used in NIH’s precision medicine research

All of Us, the precision medicine research program run by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), will utilize data from the popular consumer wearable Fitbit, with 10,000 of the devices being provided to volunteers for one year.

The devices used will be the Fitbit Charge 2 and Fitbit Alta HR devices.

“The Fitbit devices selected track a combination of physical activity, sleep, and heart rate parameters,” said Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute. “The popularity of Fitbit devices among millions of Americans, combined with their ease of use, including multi-day battery life and broad compatibility with smartphones, made Fitbit a natural choice for this pilot program.”

Fitbits were chosen over other wearables because of their popularity, their ability to track both lifestyle and sleep habits, longer battery life and their compatibility with both Android and iOS smartphones. They’ve also been the most widely used wearable in clinical research, with Fitbit saying more than 470 published studies in areas ranging from diabetes to cardiovascular health utilizing the devices’ data.

Their widespread use and ability to track a user’s activity levels and vital signs throughout the day outside a clinical setting fulfills one of the goals of the All of Us program: to gather health data from one million or more participants to accelerate research into the biological, environmental, and behavioral influences on disease and better develop individualized care.

Not all the data from Fitbit and similar trackers has proven to be accurate, however. A Stanford University study published in May 2017 found while the Fitbit Surge was the most accurate of seven werables at tracking energy expenditure, with a median error of 27.4 percent, it was still well above the 10 percent error rate researchers would want to utilize the data. While fitness trackers were overall more accurate in tracking heart rate, the Fitbit device studied was less accurate than several other wearables, including the Apple Watch.