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Health tracking could increase by 30% in the coming years

Wearables helped people keep fit during the pandemic, Huawei research shows

An interview with Dr. Anna Schneider, professor of business psychology at Fresenius University of Applied Sciences in Germany

In April and May 2022, Huawei surveyed more than 18,000 people in France, Germany, Italy, the US, the UK, China in an attempt to gauge the effect of wearables on physical exercise during the Covid pandemic. The survey is believed to be the largest and most granular of its kind.

The key findings were as follows:

  • Users age 55 and older are some of the most avid users of health-tracking technology.
  • Regardless of age or income, these users exercise roughly twice as much as those who do not track their physical activity and body metrics.
  • Our survey suggests a 30% growth in the health and fitness technology market.

We spoke with Dr. Anna Schneider, one of the principal designers of the study and a professor of business psychology.

What sparked your interest in this project?
The pandemic dealt a huge blow to many people’s established routines. The curbs on mobility in particular meant that a lot of mundane physical activity during the day simply did not happen anymore. And with gyms, pools, and many parks being closed at least temporarily, the usual ways to get exercise also fell away.

I’m really interested in how digital technology affects consumer behavior. So, I was thrilled when Huawei offered me the chance to investigate the impact of health and fitness technology with this unique survey project.

What was unique about this survey?
To start with, it has a significantly larger sample size than any similar study I am aware of. This not only increases the quality of results, but also enables me as a researcher to dig much deeper into the data. Because even for relatively small groups in the population, the data set still offers enough cases to produce meaningful results.

Which groups are you thinking of in particular?
We looked at different age groups as well as income brackets. But the large sample size also enabled us to also look more closely at users of specific devices and apps, which is usually impossible.

Age groups and income bracket do not seem so unusual... Why were they interesting for your project?
These two perspectives on the sample were particularly interesting because our results challenge existing knowledge.

How so?
The birth year 1985 broadly splits people into “digital natives” and “digital immigrants,” with those born long before 1985 commonly having the lowest adoption when it comes to digital tools. While health and fitness technology adoption rates fall below the average around the age of 50 in all countries we surveyed, we were surprised to see that the use cases, functions used, and metrics tracked did not change much with age.

In fact, in France, Germany, and Italy we found the most avid self-trackers in the 55+ age group. They tracked more metrics and saw stronger increases in physical activity when doing so than younger users. This result suggests that if the adoption of wearables and apps can be increased, it could go a long way toward addressing challenges posed by aging societies.

What did you find out concerning people in different income brackets and their use of health and fitness technology?
The expectation was that self-tracking would have a smaller effect for users with low income, because that’s what previous studies had found. But our survey results differed markedly.

All income brackets, in all countries, showed similar relative increases when people used the tracking functions offered by their devices and apps. We attribute this encouraging finding to the fact that today’s devices and apps are much more user-friendly. They produce smart content and recommendations that are significantly easier for users to interpret and use. Older generations of devices and apps forced users to interpret raw data on their own.

What is your main take-away for the future development of the market for health and fitness technology – and for potential changes in consumer behavior?
Survey respondents were asked about what they intended to do in the future. Our results suggest that the use of health tracking could increase by about 30% in the near future. That makes me quite optimistic that the trend towards digitalization in health and fitness will continue.

More than 70% of users already find these devices and apps helpful in achieving their training goals. For that reason, I am also confident that we will see a stronger impact as innovation drives new use cases and enables more continuous engagement through better battery life.

Considering the continuing trend toward digitalization in health and fitness, how can your research results make a difference?
Having accurate and reliable information handy helps people make better decisions about their physical activity and their diet. Innovative technology already has enormous potential to support people in making decisions to enhance their well-being and health, not just now, but in their future.

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