The National Institutes of Health made it clear from the start that Fitbit’s wearables would play a key role in the agency’s ambitious All of Us Research Program.
Now, eight months and more than 100,000 enrollees down the road, the agency and the device maker have announced that anyone who owns a Fitbit and has already enrolled in the program may consent to release the activity, heart rate, sleep and other health data stored in their Fitbit account with NIH’s researchers.
“Collecting real-world, real-time data through digital technologies will become a fundamental part of the program,” Eric Dishman, director of the All of Us Research Program, said in a statement. “This information in combination with many other data types will give us an unprecedented ability to better understand the impact of lifestyle and environment on health outcomes and, ultimately, develop better strategies for keeping people healthy in a very precise, individualized way.”
Interested participants may begin syncing their data by visiting the “Sync Apps & Devices” page of the All of Us website. Users may use their Fitbit devices to directly sync their health data with the program, or manually input information such as weight or water intake into their Fitbit account and upload from there, according to a press release.
This BYOD initiative is separate from the Scripps Research Translational Institute’s previously announced project within the program, which will provide 10,000 individuals with Fitbit devices for a more focused analysis. According to Fitbit, that project will be launching later this year.
Why it matters
The All of Us program aims to establish a dataset of demographic, health, genomic and other health data that can be used by researchers of various disciplines for years to come. However, its end goal of a diverse, million-person cohort is no small feat, and will likely need all of the help from consumer devices that it can muster.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for Fitbit users who choose to participate, to further contribute to one of the world’s largest research efforts by providing information that can help pave the way to a healthier future for all of us,” Adam Pellegrini, general manager of Fitbit Health Solutions, said in a statement. “Every day we learn more about the potential for wearable data to inform personalized healthcare and through All of Us, the research community will gain an even better understanding of the role wearable data can play in helping to prevent and treat disease.”
Fitbit’s increasing implementation within the program is also a relatively high-profile testament to the value of wearables as tools for health data collection. In its announcement, for instance, the device maker noted that Scripps’ decision to use the company’s wearables was “based on the popularity and credibility of its use in peer-validated clinical research.”
What’s the trend
The All of Us Research Program was established by the White House in 2015, then as the Precision Medicine Initiative Cohort Program. After a beta phase that enrolled 45,000 participants and 129 clinic locations, open enrollment in in the initiative began in May of last year. An update from All of Us’ chief engagement officer in October revealed that the program had registered more than 100,000 participants — 65,000 of whom had already completed the full protocol — and was looking to improve how its de-identified data would be made available to researchers.