Use of pedometers at work does not necessarily increase physical activity
A recent Cochrane review concludes that there is insufficient evidence to assess whether the use of gadgets that count your daily number of steps at work is of benefit. The authors evaluated whether these gadgets, called pedometers, increase physical activity and thereby lead to subsequent health benefits. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that most people should undertake at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity most days, as it reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers. However, less than 40% of the world’s population actually do so.
The authors searched for randomized controlled trials of workplace health promotion interventions that involved the use of a pedometer by employed adults. They searched a range of electronic libraries up to 6th of February 2012, retrieving 3282 potential papers.
The authors eventually included four studies in the review. One study compared pedometer programmes with an alternative physical activity programme, but significant baseline differences between the intervention and control groups made it difficult to distinguish the true effect. The three remaining studies compared pedometer programmes with minimally active control groups. One study observed an improvement in physical activity in the pedometer programme, but the two other studies found no significant difference between the pedometer group and the control group. These results could not be combined, as each study used a different measure for physical activity. Thus the overall effect is not clear.
Single studies found that beneficial changes in body mass index, fasting plasma glucose, the mental component of quality of life and worksite injury associated with the pedometer programmes, in contrast to the results of the control group. However, none of the studies identified consistent differences between waist circumference, blood pressure and quality of life outcomes of the pedometer programme and the control group. In addition, the majority of the included studies had a high risk of bias, mainly due to participants and staff knowing who was in the intervention group and who was in the control group, attrition of participants and not having published a protocol prior to running the study.
Further high quality randomized controlled trials should be undertaken covering a range of health outcomes and assessments in the long term.
The Cochrane Collaboration is an esteemed global research community with more than 28 000 active members. The Collaboration produces syntheses of medical research, called Cochrane reviews. The reviews are produced and published by 53 review groups that each have their own speciality area. Each review collects and summarizes the best available evidence of a given intervention that aims to address a particular health issue. Occupational safety and health reviews are intended to influence guidance and procedures at workplaces and occupational health services so that harmful exposures can be reduced and work-related diseases can be prevented and treated as effectively as possible.
Jani Ruotsalainen, Managing Editor, Cochrane Occupational Safety and Health Review Group
Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Tel. +358 30 474 7334, jani.ruotsalainen[at]ttl.fi
Freak-Poli RLA, Cumpston M, Peeters A, Clemes SA. Workplace pedometer interventions for increasing physical activity. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 4. Art. No.: CD009209.
The Cochrane Library (www.thecochranelibrary.com)
Occupational Safety and Health Review Group (www.osh.cochrane.org)
The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health researches, develops and specializes in well-being at work. It promotes occupational health and safety and the well-being of workers. It is an independent institution under public law, working under the administrative sector of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. It has six regional offices, and its headquarters are in Helsinki. It employs just under 800 people.