Adding a FitBit

I have decided to add a FitBit to my routine of self-monitoring, making it the 5th mobile device collecting data for this project (insulin pump, CGM, blood glucose monitor, iPhone, FitBit).

The FitBit Ultra costs about $100 and contains an accelerometer to measure the number of steps a person takes throughout the day. An altimeter measures change in elevation, meaning that the device can also measure how many floors of stairs you climb. The internal stopwatch can be used to measure sleep and, combined with your activity overnight, gauge the quality of your rest.

The device is quite well designed and very simple. I had it out of the box, set up and in use within minutes. With just one button, it is easy to cycle through the readings and get quick feedback any time on the built-in display. Readings are downloaded wirelessly when the base station is in range and plugged in. The service is also good about sending encouraging e-mails after you reach various milestones with your activity.

Unfortunately on day 6 of using it, my FitBit broke while I was sitting on the couch. It’s quite surprising how easily that can happen.

The FitBit support team did replace it within a few days after I answered a few questions, so I am back up to speed now.

While the FitBit is not as essential addition to this Databetes 2012 project, I think it will prove helpful in giving me a general overview of how active I am each day. I don’t put too much weight on the specific readings it gives (a recent 5 mile run was listed as 7 miles). I’ve worn it on a few runs. It tends to give me results a bit higher than the actual distance covered (although at times more accurate readings than the GPS-guided service RunKeeper).

Using the FitBit is also useful for its website, which allows you to log food. Their nutritional database is ok, but incomplete. It is strange to see what foods they do and don’t have. For example, when I search for foods from Trader Joe’s (my local supermarket), the list is limited to just a few items. It seems strange that Trader Joe’s would not make their entire food database public. It would also be nice to be able to enter a bar code (either with or without a camera),  as is possible on services like Fooducate.

Another complicated issue with all nutritional databases is the issue of specific vs. general data. I just did a search for “fries” and got 333 results. It showed various fast food chains and various sizes. But I simply wanted a general listing for fries (I had fries last night at a local restaurant). It highlights that there are multiple types of users, some that want the more precise breakdown possible. Others will want the most general that it is possible to generate in the least amount of time. This is certainly a challenge for anyone operating in this market.

Nonetheless, the FitBit is so small and convenient that it is easy to add to my daily routine. It will be good to see how a device designed for the mass market can be incorporated into a niche like diabetes patients. Perhaps some features can be implemented into our other devices.

I’m also interested in seeing how the FitBit team works to refine the user experience throughout the year. With the Jawbone Up and the Nike Fuelband, the market is certainly getting competitive.

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