NIH Partners with Fitbit for Study on Lifestyle and Health

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NIH Partners with Fitbit for Study on Lifestyle and Health

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The National Institutes of Health tapped Fitbit to provide wristband activity trackers for its All of Us initiative. Created in 2015, the initiative aims to help researchers better understand how the genes, lifestyle, and environment of people influence their health.

The program will collect health data from 1 million people in the US, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Among the metrics that program will collect are heart rate and sleep patterns through wristbands that Fitbit will provide.

1st pilot project

For the initial pilot project of NIH, Fitbit will provide 10,000 wristbands. So far, around 8,000 people have volunteered to be part of the program since listing started in May. NIH researchers hope to track the volunteers for at least 10 years.

The wearable sensors are going to form a large part of the information that the health agency is collecting. Dr. Steven Steinhubl, the director of digital medicine at the Scripps Translational Science Institute, said that everything which can be learned from the program, such as sleep patterns and resting heart rate, will be the start of learning more about people.

He said that All of Us is designed to change the way people think about health and treatment and to make it more individualized. A vital part of it is to have an understanding of changes in human physiology that the wearable device will capture.

Health company

NIH’s choice of Fitbit as the provider of the wearable sensors is timely because the San Francisco-based firm is positioning itself as a health company instead of just a fitness firm. At a health conference in Boston in October, Fitbit showed how the tracker can detect atrial fibrillation, an abnormality in the heart rhythm leading to shortness of breath or a higher risk of stroke.

The health agency picked Fitbit because the wearable is compatible with two major mobile operating systems and it lasts several days on one charge. This makes Fitbit an appropriate gadget to track sleep patterns and fitness.

Adam Pelligrini, the general manager of Fitbit Health Solutions, said that researchers, during the first phase of the project, will study how the device can be used for population health at scale.  The company can provide insights that Fitbit – which counts 11 million members in the health social network it launched in March – has never released before, he said, Modern Health Care reported.

There are two Fitbit models that the participants can choose from – the Alta HR and Charge 2, Tech Crunch noted. These two models can give a real sample of energy levels, how people sleep, and their walking record which Fitbit will collect while people live their daily lives.

440 published NIH studies

It is not the first time that NIH has tapped Fitbit for use in its research.  Pelligrini disclosed that 95 percent of all studies of the federal health agency that include wearables used Fitbit. He said 440 NIH published studies have relied on Fitbit. He added that the firm supports research because it is part of the company’s healthcare strategy.

The data to be generated from the All of Us program, initiated by former US President Barack Obama in 2015, will be two-way. Fitbit will collect health metrics from the participants and will share the information with them. Steinhubl said the two-way direction is part of Fitbit’s policy to better inform the participants about their health. It will provide them with information the participants will find valuable.

The researchers will also use the two-way exchange to check if there are other information that the volunteers are not getting yet but would want to receive.

Beyond the program, Fitbit is also working with health plans and health systems for remote monitoring and companies for employee wellness. Despite the access to Fitbit data available to more providers, the question of what to do with the information and how to convert it into electronic health records and incorporate it into clinical practice remains.

The ability to gather data at all hours, which Pelligrini emphasized, can overwhelm providers because of too much data and may serve instead as a hindrance to clinician use. However, he said it could be useful to the All of Us program because the health data will yield insights to help personalize medicine. It will also aid scientists to find new cures since every single person is different.

Scripps will make a one-year study by using the data generated by the Fitbit wearable. It will provide recommendations on how wearables can be incorporated throughout the initiative, Fierce Healthcare reported. Steinhubl pointed out that most of what researchers know currently is based on intermittent snapshots of health collected in an artificial setting or based on personal recall.

Through All of Us, the scientists will have access to comprehensive activity, heart rate, and sleep data. It will help them gain a better understanding of the relationship between lifestyle behaviors and health outcomes, and their meaning for patients on an individual basis.

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