There have never been more options for those of us that want to become the fittest and healthiest versions of ourselves. When it comes to technology, there’s a whole industry of products designed to support us either by tracking calories or monitoring our gym sessions, but if you really want to drop some fat, you should think twice about dumping your personal trainer according to the latest research. Here’s what you need to know. A new study from Northwestern Medicine was designed to find out if wireless fitness feedback systems can replace a traditional human coaching for treating obesity. It’s an important question because the fitness tracker market is thought to be worth more than $25 billion in 2024, in North American alone and that figure is thought to continue to rise year on year.

How was the study carried out?

400 adults identified as overweight or obese were evaluated for a total of 12 months to find out which process worked best. These processes were grouped as:

  • Treatment with a wireless system alone
  • Treatment with a wireless system and human coaching
  • Treatment with human coaches alone

The 18- to 60-year-old participants who used a wireless system were given an integrated app, WiFi scale, and a Fitbit. This allowed them to receive electronic feedback on their diet, activity, and weight. Those who received human coaching were given additional advice and guidance.

Human Coaches hand touching robotic hand for health and fitness

Human Coaching Vs Tech Results

Those who started out with technology and zero human coaching support were less likely to receive meaningful weight loss, determined the data. “Giving people technology alone for the initial phase of obesity treatment produces unacceptably worse weight loss than giving them treatment that combines technology with a human coach,” said Bonnie Spring, who was the corresponding study author and is both the director of the Center for Behavior and Health, and a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

While previous research has pointed to encouraging engagement between humans and their wearable tech, there has been a question mark over whether or not simply operating the devices is the same thing as actually exercising or following the dietary guidance that they provide. The gap between engaging with the equipment and engaging with some kind of meaningful output could be the reason that tech cannot yet replace humans when it comes to helping us to lose weight or gain muscle. Perhaps we are motivated to do more when there’s an actual person that we need to be accountable to.

“At this stage, the average person still needs a human coach to achieve clinically meaningful weight loss goals because the tech isn’t sufficiently developed yet,” said Spring. “We may not be so far away from having an AI chat bot that can sub for a human, but we are not quite there yet. It’s within reach. The tech is developing really fast.” In the meantime, the trusty, traditional PT is far from obsolete.