Despite Common Belief



How technology is not making us fatter.

Photo by Caroline Gentile '17
Photo by Caroline Gentile ’17

“Fatty, fatty, two by four, can’t fit through the kitchen door, when the door begins to break, fatty had a tummy ache!”— This is a rhyme my mother likes to chant whenever my siblings or me are being lazy. Since the dawn of the creation of iPods/Pads/Phones, we’ve heard this rhyme more and more. When I was younger, I was serenaded with it because I spent too much time sitting in front of our television (which was not HD, or even a flat screen—how times have changed!). Now, instead of parking it in front of the TV like I did in the olden days, my younger siblings have become glued to their Apple devices, playing Angry Birds or watching Netflix. In other words, they aren’t moving. Technology has made them, as it made me, as it has probably made a lot of people, sedentary. It’s no wonder that rising obesity rates have been attributed to our increased dependence on technology.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, I think technology can sometimes have the opposite effect. There are plenty of apps out there designed to keep track of what we eat and how much we exercise, with the goal that we’ll eat better and exercise more. I know of one in particular that takes money out of your bank account whenever you skip the gym. While that’s a bit extreme, I think fitness technologies have become increasingly more popular and more effective.

The most zeitgeist-y piece of fitness technology on the market right now is the FitBit. It tells time, tracks sleep, counts steps, calculates calories burned based on your basal metabolic rate, tallies your active minutes, and monitors how many flights of stairs you scale everyday. All in the form of a waterproof, sweat-proof watch, albeit a watch that looks strikingly similar to something that someone might wear if they were on house arrest. The FitBit connects to an app that can be downloaded on just about anything, and allows you to monitor all of those fun health stats whenever, wherever. It also allows you to “friend” other FitBit users so you can compare how many steps a day you’ve taken. Every member of my family got one for Christmas from my dad, who hoped that we would be more active if our laziness were quantified in the dismally low number of steps we took.

He was right. When I first strapped on my FitBit, it became shockingly clear to me that I didn’t take 10,000 steps a day, the recommended daily amount. Not even close. That being said, it was J-term and I had a lot of Netflix to watch, but it was truly eye-opening to actually see just how active I wasn’t. The FitBit app allows you to compare how many steps you’ve taken with the amount taken by your FitBit “friends” (or in my case, my family). At first, I came dead last, every single day. But we’re a competitive bunch, and I was not about to be beaten by my iPad-addicted younger sister.

So I started taking more stairs, going for more walks and runs with my overweight dog, and frantically marching in place to up my step count. While the first two approaches were effective, the last one wasn’t. The FitBit is too smart for such cheap tricks. It really makes you move. Even when I went on vacation to the beach, a time during which I usually assume a starfish-esque position in the sand between the hours of 10 am and 3 pm, I wore my FitBit so I could see how active I was being. Instead of starfishing, I went for walks. Not only did I get a more even tan, but I also destroyed that 10,000-steps-a-day recommendation.
Once I got to back to school, I was (unfortunately) no longer taking hour-long strolls on the beach, nor watching Netflix in my bed. It was time to see how active I was in my normal day-to-day life. As it turns out, at college, I usually take 10,000 steps a day without even trying. When I work out, or simply walk to the Quad from the rest of civilization, it can get up to 15,000, or even 20,000. Having something on my wrist that, with the click of a button, assesses my daily activity level helps me make conscious decisions to be more active. It also helps me see how many calories my body is burning so that I can eat accordingly. Since I’ve gotten my FitBit, I’ve made much healthier choices. While I do still watch Netflix on my iPad, I do it on the treadmill instead of in my bed, in hopes of adding 3,000 more steps to my daily count. By staying active (read: kicking my family’s ass with my super high step counts), I’ll always be able to at least fit through the kitchen door, and I’ll have technology to thank for that.

Caroline Gentile ’17 (cgentile@college) is not a FitBit rep, despite common belief.