I probably don’t need to quote statistics or share anecdotes to convince you that weight loss and blood pressure control are critical goals not only for patients individually but also for the general health and welfare the entire nation. So when I came across a meta-analysis published in JAMA in 2007 suggesting that a simple pedometer could help patients achieve both, I was intrigued. There are a lot of studies out there about different interventions, pharmacological and lifestyle, that can achieve fairly dramatic results. But this one seems to utilize a device that millions of people now carry in their pockets.

We’ve talked previously about apps like iFall which uses the accelerometer in Android devices to monitor for evidence of a fall in an elderly or otherwise at risk patients, going so far as to automatically notifying a family member or emergency medical services. There are numerous apps available using this and similar technology in the iPhone to measures the number of steps a person takes in a day – basically, a pedometer in your pocket.

Now, before I go further, I must confess that I haven’t personally reviewed one of these pedometer apps for accuracy or ease of use (hopefully, we can get to those and other personal health apps soon). But lets assume that at least one of the available pedometer apps works reasonably well. The JAMA meta-analysis basically showed that having a pedometer increased steps/day by up to 2500. Notably, the trials described were primarily in middle aged women. In this patient population, they found a BMI decrease of approximately 0.4 and systolic blood pressure reduction of 4 mm Hg (both statistically significant). It’s important to note though that patients were just handed pedometers and sent out the door – they received instruction and other support, including goal setting for activity levels.

What would be great to see is a RCT using an iPhone and/or Android pedometer app and assessing for weight loss, blood pressure control, blood sugar control, and other metrics of health. Considering the millions of people that already carry these devices in their pockets, success with such a trial could open up yet another front in the battle for a healthier population.