Estimating physical activity and sedentary behavior in a free-living context: A pragmatic comparison of consumer-based activity trackers and actigraph accelerometry

Sjaan R. Gomersall*, Norman Ng, Nicola W. Burton, Toby G. Pavey, Nicholas D. Gilson, Wendy J. Brown

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

60 Citations (Scopus)
44 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Activity trackers are increasingly popular with both consumers and researchers for monitoring activity and for promoting positive behavior change. However, there is a lack of research investigating the performance of these devices in free-living contexts, for which findings are likely to vary from studies conducted in well-controlled laboratory settings. 

Objective: The aim was to compare Fitbit One and Jawbone UP estimates of steps, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA), and sedentary behavior with data from the ActiGraph GT3X+ accelerometer in a free-living context. 

Methods: Thirty-two participants were recruited using convenience sampling; 29 provided valid data for this study (female: 90%, 26/29; age: mean 39.6, SD 11.0 years). On two occasions for 7 days each, participants wore an ActiGraph GT3X+ accelerometer on their right hip and either a hip-worn Fitbit One (n=14) or wrist-worn Jawbone UP (n=15) activity tracker. Daily estimates of steps and very active minutes were derived from the Fitbit One (n=135 days) and steps, active time, and longest idle time from the Jawbone UP (n=154 days). Daily estimates of steps, MVPA, and longest sedentary bout were derived from the corresponding days of ActiGraph data. Correlation coefficients and Bland-Altman plots with examination of systematic bias were used to assess convergent validity and agreement between the devices and the ActiGraph. Cohen fs kappa was used to assess the agreement between each device and the ActiGraph for classification of active versus inactive (≥10,000 steps per day and ≥30 min/day of MVPA) comparable with public health guidelines. 

Results: Correlations with ActiGraph estimates of steps and MVPA ranged between .72 and .90 for Fitbit One and .56 and .75 for Jawbone UP. Compared with ActiGraph estimates, both devices overestimated daily steps by 8% (Fitbit One) and 14% (Jawbone UP). However, mean differences were larger for daily MVPA (Fitbit One: underestimated by 46%; Jawbone UP: overestimated by 50%). There was systematic bias across all outcomes for both devices. Correlations with ActiGraph data for longest idle time (Jawbone UP) ranged from .08 to .19. Agreement for classifying days as active or inactive using the ≥10,000 steps/day criterion was substantial (Fitbit One: È=.68; Jawbone UP: È=.52) and slight-fair using the criterion of ≥30 min/day of MVPA (Fitbit One: ê=.40; Jawbone UP: ê=.14). 

Conclusions: There was moderate-strong agreement between the ActiGraph and both Fitbit One and Jawbone UP for the estimation of daily steps. However, due to modest accuracy and systematic bias, they are better suited for consumer-based self-monitoring (eg, for the public consumer or in behavior change interventions) rather than to evaluate research outcomes. The outcomes that relate to health-enhancing MVPA (eg, "very active minutes" for Fitbit One or "active time" for Jawbone UP) and sedentary behavior ("idle time" for Jawbone UP) should be used with caution by consumers and researchers alike.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere239
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes


Dive into the research topics of 'Estimating physical activity and sedentary behavior in a free-living context: A pragmatic comparison of consumer-based activity trackers and actigraph accelerometry'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this