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Tech entrepreneur Mark Tebbe finds his stride with Fitbit

Mark Tebbe checks his Fitbit progress his iPhone. | Ramzi Dreessen~Sun-Times

Mark Tebbe checks his Fitbit progress on his iPhone. | Ramzi Dreessen~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 2, 2012 6:07AM

Waiting at a crosswalk last week, I watched a woman pacing at the intersection. Intrigued by her constant (yet ineffective) motion, I asked her what she was doing. She informed me that she was “Fitbitting.”

While I hadn’t heard her verb before, I knew she was upping her daily Fitbit step count since I have carried one myself for the past year (rest assured, I don’t pace needlessly). Her answer didn’t totally surprise me, since my wife Robin recently was compelled to purchase a Fitbit so that she could participate when several of her friends got together. Invariably, her gal pals would reach into their blouses to grasp the small clip-on devices so they could competitively compare the number of steps they took that day. I am sure some of them could be accused of “Fitbitting” as well.

At first glance, a Fitbit seems like a highly priced ($100) pedometer that looks something like a Bluetooth headset. But after a bit more review, it’s obviously so much more: a lightweight, well-built hardware device with easy-to-use software that helps a person capture information about their daily activity. This accelerometer-based clip-on has tiny sensors that track various metrics, such as the number of steps taken, distance traveled, stairs climbed and calories burned. While many users clip the product to their belts, women often clip it to their bra straps for discrete convenience.

While it has an integrated LED display to quickly review your results, it also contains a small transmitter that can upload your information to a private website, so you can track your historical numbers with numerous pie charts, bar graphs and goal ranges whether on your computer, tablet or smartphone. Adventurous users (or dieters) can also tie in wireless weight scales to expand the data tracked.

Armed with this data, Fitbit users can become more health conscious. Today’s American adults average only 5,117 steps per day (per a recent University of Tennessee study) — which is half of the U.S. Surgeon General’s recommended 10,000 daily steps. And with more than 66 percent of American adults overweight, dieters using this data can ramp up their daily steps and as a result lose more weight.

But Fitbit is not alone in this online monitoring of activity data. Users can purchase bracelets such as Nike’s FuelBand and Jawbone’s Up, or upper-arm devices, like the one from BodyMedia.

Bottom line? Whether to cultivate personal information, enhance weight loss efforts or create bragging rights among friends, these devices increase our health awareness in a fun and helpful manner. Many of us can use that help. But do me a favor — stay out of the intersection when you’re “Fitbitting.”

Mark Tebbe donated his fee for writing this column to the Global Health Initiative at Chicago Lake Shore Medical Associates.

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