Fitbit, NIH launch initiative to advance precision medicine study


Sarah Tew/Techhnews

Your Fitbit data could help advance scientific research. 

Fitbit and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on Wednesday launched an initiative called the Fitbit Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) project. It’s the first digital health technology initiative for the All of Us Research Program, a precision medicine study hoping to improve the prevention and treatment of disease “based on individual differences in lifestyle, environment and genetics.” All of Us, which launched nationwide in May 2018, hopes to enroll at least one million participants. 

Fitbit users currently enrolled in All of Us can opt to sync their Fitbit accounts to help researchers gain insights into the relationships between indicators like physical activity, heart rate, sleep and health outcomes. The incorporation of that data could help build a diverse data set for research. 

Participants will be invited to share health information through surveys, electronic health records, physical measurements, biosamples and digital health technologies. Researchers will be able to access that data for a range of health studies. There will be “strict safeguards in place” to protect the privacy of participants, Fitbit said in a release.

“Collecting real-world, real-time data through digital technologies will become a fundamental part of the program,” said Eric Dishman, director of the All of Us Research Program, 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.”

in 2017, Scripps Research chose Fitbit to be the first wearable used in the All of Us program, “based on the popularity and credibility of its use in peer-validated clinical research,” according to the release. Fitbit devices were the most commonly used consumer activity monitors in published work and clinical trials, according to an analysis published in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) Journal. In addition, more than 675 published studies have used a Fitbit device, according to Fitabase.

“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,” said Adam Pellegrini, general manager of Fitbit Health Solutions, in a statement.

Fitbit users can sync their health stats with the program using their device, but a device isn’t necessary to participate. All of Us participants can also link their data through their Fitbit account and manually add information such as weight, water intake and meals. They can do this by logging onto the All of Us participant portal, then going to the Sync Apps & Devices page. Those interested in enrolling in All of Us can do so on the program’s enrollment page.

A second All of Us research initiative with Fitbit devices will launch later this year. The study will involve providing up to 10,000 Fitbit devices to random participants. 

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