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Glenn Weaver awarded $3.2 million grant to assess activity/sleep trackers for children

May 25, 2022 | Erin Bluvas,

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has awarded $3.2 million to exercise science associate professor Glenn Weaver. He will use the five-year R01 grant to assess the validity and utility of consumer-based wearable fitness trackers in monitoring free-living physical activity energy expenditure and sleep in children ages 5-12 years old.

“Over the last 10 years, the technology in consumer wearable devices has improved their ability to collect heart rate and movement via accelerometry to noninvasively measure free-living physical activity energy expenditure and sleep,” Weaver says. “However, accurate measurement of these activities is complex, with each method presenting challenges and limitations.”

This project will be among the first to establish the accuracy of measuring sleep-awake activities for children using the underlying metrics from these devices. Research grade devices are not necessarily designed for this age group or the typical routine monitoring timeframes (e.g., seven days) required for most scientific studies.

Consumer wearable devices hold promise for addressing these challenges because there are devices specifically designed for children, and they are designed to be worn indefinitely. Previous research has shown that combining heart rate and accelerometry data (e.g., steps, counts) offers the most accurate estimates of physical activity, energy expenditure and sleep but falls short of providing the simultaneous, longer-term data collection needed for research.

Heart rate measurements have historically been collected by devices uncomfortably strapped to the chest. Consumer-friendly devices, such as FitBits worn on the wrist, have since emerged to offer a noninvasive method for estimating heart rate. Studies have confirmed the comparability of the data provided by these newer devices for adults, but none have examined their validity when worn by children.

This study builds on Weaver’s research program, which is focused on childhood obesity prevention by developing, implementing and evaluating interventions that mitigate the risk of overweight and obesity among children and adolescents from minority and low socioeconomic backgrounds.  Weaver hopes that leveraging consumer wearables for the measurement of children’s sleep and physical activity will help him and other researchers to better evaluate the effectiveness of interventions.

One of his projects has evolved from the development and then assessment of an innovative summer program (Health Summer Learners) to help elementary-age children avoid unhealthy weight gains/fitness losses and academic declines (two challenges that disproportionately affect children from low-income households) during the summer break. The 2021 Breakthrough Star Award winner collaborates on other childhood obesity prevention studies as a principal investigator with the Research Center on Children’s Well-Being and the Arnold Childhood Obesity Initiative.


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