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NIH Fitbit Study Reveals Need for Diversity in Research

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NIH Fitbit Study Reveals Need for Diversity in Research

Fitbit users and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have joined forces with a unique program that is providing valuable health information to many, while shedding light on health issues for underserved communities in America. The program, aptly called All of Us, allows Fitbit wearers to share their data with NIH researchers who gather data such as heart rates, levels of physical activity, and sleep quality, all under the banner of Fitbit Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD). 

Here’s how it works. Anyone who wants to join the All of Us Research Program can register online and there is no requirement to have health insurance to be part of the program. Participants share health data, such as electronic health records and health surveys. Some may be asked to share more information, including one’s physical measurements and share urine and blood samples. Participants then get information back which can help them to better understand their own health, including DNA information which can offer insights into genetic traits. 

Diversity came to play a large role in the program, which first launched in 2018, when researchers saw that most of the people who signed up were white and had higher-income backgrounds. So the NIH did a survey to find out why, querying a group of adults composed of 39% who identified as Hispanic, 36% as non-Hispanic Black or African American, and 15% as non-Hispanic White. The results showed that more than half of the people surveyed had interest in using fitness trackers but that cost was one of the biggest obstacles. Language barriers were also revealed; many Spanish-speaking respondents attached a negative connotation to the word “tracker,” believing it to mean that fitness trackers monitor one’s movements in the surveillance sense.   

A Pew Research study mirrors the demographics of the initial All of Us Research Program participation, finding that of the 21% of Americans who use wearable fitness trackers or smartwatches, 65% identify as white or non-Hispanic, with annual household incomes above $30 K. By contrast, 70% of those who participated in the NIH survey identified as non-white and have lower levels of income than their white counterparts. 

In April 2022, All of Us researchers Yashoda Sharma and Chris Lunt co-wrote an editorial that addresses these racial and economic disparities. They say, “As we write this, about 3,000 All of Us Research Program participants are sharing data from program-provided devices, nearly all of whom are from communities historically underrepresented in biomedical research.”

* This article was originally published here

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