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NIH to collect Fitbit data for research project


Fitbit devices will be used for an NIH research program to explore the influence of behavioral, biological, and environmental influences on health.

The National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) All of Us Research Program will be using Fitbit devices for a pilot study to gain better insights into the influence of behavioral, biological, and environmental influences on health.

This study is through a collaboration with the Scripps Translational Science Institute (STSI) funded through a supplemental grant awarded to The Scripts Research Institute (TSRI) by the NIH.

STSI will be working with Fitbit to deploy 10,000 activity trackers to participants in the All of Us Research Program. This will be among the largest deployments of wearables in a population-based study, according to Job Godino, PhD, scientific lead for digital health technologies, STSI.

“When you look across the broad landscape of studies that have measured physical activity and sleep objectively, the vast majority have only done so for four to seven days,” he says. 


“The goal of this research is to gain insight into how a wearable device might impact compliance and engagement in a large national cohort study of this scale,” says Adam Pellegrini, general manager of Fitbit Health Solutions. “At the end of the study, the researchers will provide recommendations on how the devices could be more broadly incorporated into the All of Us Research Program.”

Wearable technologies, like those designed by Fitbit, are the measurement tools that will quantify the sort of individual differences that could yield the insights necessary to deliver precision medicine, according to Godino. The hope is that researchers will be able use the data to better understand how health indicators such as physical activity, sleep and heart patterns differ by age, geography, and disease categories to create a personalized approach to medicine that can help prevent and treat disease.

“Our pilot study will give us the opportunity to figure out how to do this without compromising the security or privacy of participants,” says Godino. “It will also allow us to test the best methods for communicating with participants about the importance of measuring health behaviors like physical activity and sleep, and physiological parameters like resting heart rate. We also want to learn how we can best motivate a large and diverse group of participants to wear the device we give them consistently over a long period of time. This is something that has not been done before.”

The data collected from the Fitbit devices will be de-identified and released along with a lot of other data from the All of Us Research Program, says Godino. “Data sharing is a high priority to both researchers and participants, and these data should help answer some unique and important research questions,” he says.

Godino believes that the data from the pilot study will not only contribute to new health insights, but it will also generate evidenced-based methods that researchers and healthcare providers can benefit from.

“We will be collecting a variety of different data with the Fitbit devices. The large majority will be comprised of physical activity, exercise, and sleep data, but we will also be collecting things like height and weight, resting heart rate, and cardiorespiratory fitness,” he says.

Pellegrini agrees. “Because All of Us will build one of the world’s largest data sets with the goal of improving the ability to prevent and treat disease based on individual differences in lifestyle, environment, and genetics, this has the potential to create more effective and efficient treatment and prevention of disease,” he says.

In parallel to this occurring, Godino says researchers will study the impact of providing a Fitbit device on participant retention and engagement with other All of Us Research Program activities. “We are also interested in studying long-term use of the Fitbits,” he says. “We think that receiving a Fitbit will motivate some people to stay engaged in the study, and we also want to identify ways to help participants wear the device for as long as possible.”

The All of Us Research Program includes a number of healthcare provider organizations, as well as a partnership with the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.  


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