Florida Blue grant backs MyFitnessPal, Fitbit-enabled teenage obesity study

By Brian Dolan
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MyFitnessPal iPhone appThanks to a $100,000 grant from the philanthropic arm of insurance company Florida Blue, researchers with affiliations to Johns Hopkins Medicine, are launching a study on how tracking devices and apps can help obese teenagers make healthier decisions, according to a Reuters report.

The researchers recently visited a high school in Florida to begin recruiting the 50 teenagers it plans to sign up for the study, which will include the use of Fitbit tracking devices and the MyFitnessPal app. Study participants will track their activity and sleep with the Fitbit device, while MyFitnessPal will help them track what they eat.

"It's cool. You can wear it and it measures your activity," Dr. Raquel Hernandez, lead researcher, an assistant professor of pediatrics at John Hopkins Medical School, and provider at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, told Reuters. "It also can help the student know what they really are doing."

The study isn't just about the effects of tracking, however, if the teenager's activity levels drop, the researchers can text or Twitter message them a note with suggestions for healthy eating or a physical activity.

In addition to the digital nudges, the students will meet with nutrition experts and fitness coaches twice a week and behavior change-focused, after school sessions with a psychologist.