Health Wearables, Gamification, and Healthful Activity
47 Pages Posted: 5 Aug 2019 Last revised: 29 Jun 2022
Date Written: January 30, 2022
Health wearables in combination with gamification enable interventions that have the potential to increase physical activity---a key determinant of health. However, the extant literature does not provide conclusive evidence on the benefits of gamification and there are persistent concerns that competition-based gamification approaches will only benefit those who are highly active at the expense of those who are sedentary. We investigate the effect of Fitbit leaderboards on the number of steps taken by the user. Using a unique dataset of Fitbit wearable users, some of whom participate in a leaderboard, we find that leaderboards lead to a 370 (3.5%) step increase in the users' daily physical activity. However, we find that the benefits of leaderboards are highly heterogeneous. Surprisingly, we find that those who were highly active prior to adoption are hurt by leaderboards and walk 630 fewer steps daily post adoption (a 5% relative decrease). In contrast, those who were sedentary prior to adoption benefited substantially from leaderboards and walked an additional 1,300 steps daily after adoption (a 15% relative increase). We find that these effects emerge because sedentary individuals benefit even when leaderboards are small and when they do not rank first on them. In contrast, highly active individuals are harmed by smaller leaderboards and only see benefit when they rank highly on large leaderboards. We posit that this unexpected divergence in effects could be due to the underappreciated potential of non-competition dynamics (e.g., changes in expectations for exercise) to benefit sedentary users, but harm more active ones.
Keywords: health wearables, gamification, health, fitness, physical activity, activity trackers
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