Study: Your social network is a more accurate portrait of your health than Fitbit

A fitness tracker is a wrist-worn device that grants users a convenient estimation of the number of steps they took that day, the running distance they achieved, heart rate stats, sleeping patterns, and even their swimming laps. The Fitbit is probably the most prominent activity tracker available to consumers, though the technology is distributed by many brands in a myriad of different forms. The devices have enjoyed a wealth of popularity in the time since their relatively recent inception, but a new study motions another potentially more accurate way to determine our health and fitness.

“We were interested in the topology of the social network — what does my position within my social network predict about my health and well-being?” questioned the new study’s lead author Nitesh V. Chawla, who is also a professor of computer science and engineering at Notre Dame.

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What your social network says about your health

Participants involved in the study were fitted with Fitbits to evaluate their sleeping patterns, amount of daily steps and general activity levels. Individuals were then surveyed about their emotional state, particularly in regards to their views on the concepts of positivity, happiness, and stress. The researchers analyzed their results alongside the information they gathered about the volume of calls and texts received by each participant. 

“What we found was the social network structure provides a significant improvement in predictability of wellness states of an individual over just using the data derived from wearables, like the number of steps or heart rate.”

The finds which were published in PLOS ONE, asserts that combining information about one’s social network with information from a fitness tracker improved the researchers ability to predict a respondent’s happiness by 65%, improved their ability to predict a respondent’s self-assessed health by 54%, 55% improvement to predicting positive attitude, and 38% improvement to feelings of success. The goal was to alert the public to the one-dimensional nature of activity trackers. There is a wide range of things that contribute and detract from physical well-being, so assessing your own exclusively by the will of digital numbers will provide you with significantly less than the whole picture.

“This study asserts that without social network information, we only have an incomplete view of an individual’s wellness state, and to be fully predictive or to be able to derive interventions, it is critical to be aware of the social network structural features as well,” Chawla explained to Mother Nature Network.