A new study suggests that the accuracy of smartwatches and other fitness trackers may be lacking for individuals of color, despite the fact that millions of Americans use these devices to monitor their heart rates.
Studies & Tests
The review of 10 previous studies revealed that, in four of them, wearable sensors were obviously inaccurate when it came to measuring the heart rates of people with darker skin tones. As was discovered in those two earlier investigations, this was the case for some of the devices they tested, but not all.
In light of the fact that Apple Watches, Fitbits, and other “wearables” are used for more than just monitoring physical activity, the researchers find the disparity to be cause for worry. For instance, if a user’s heart rate is excessively high or low or shows symptoms of atrial fibrillation (a common cardiac rhythm disorder), the Apple Watch may alert them.
“Now these gadgets are being advertised as a means to monitor your health,” says Dr. Daniel Koerber, the study’s principal researcher and a resident physician at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. Thus, inaccurate readings may prompt unneeded trips to the doctor when a person’s perceived heart rate is either too high or too low.
People with alarming findings should see a doctor, although those with darker skin tones should be mindful of the test’s lower accuracy. It’s important to “take these readings with a grain of salt,” Koerber adds.
In Washington, DC, Koerber presents his results to the American College of Cardiology (ACC). Preliminary studies presented at conferences are often not taken seriously until they have been published in a reputable publication.
Wearable fitness devices are commonplace. Twenty-one percent of Americans, including 26% of Hispanics and 23% of Blacks, reported daily usage of a wristwatch or fitness tracker in a poll conducted by Pew Research in 2021.
The gadgets’ inaccuracy on darker skin tones is not a new problem. The problem starts with the fundamental technology that underpins most wearables. Light transmitted through the skin is analyzed for changes in blood volume to calculate the heart rate. Typically, the signal in question will be green.