RTI International named winner of CDC’s Healthy Behavior Data Challenge

First time that data from consumer wearable devices augments the nation’s premier public health surveillance system


RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NCIn response to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s call to address the limitations of self-reported health surveillance information, RTI International has demonstrated how grouping large amounts of Fitbit data can be used to better monitor trends in health behaviors and disease risk.  Building on the growing trend of using technology to track health and fitness, the study obtained a voluntary donation of Fitbit data from individual participants to illustrate how integrating survey data with measures of physical activity, sedentary behaviors and sleep can create a more detailed picture of health at the population level.

RTI will continue working with the CDC’s Division of Population Health to demonstrate how fitness trackers that closely monitor actual health behaviors can improve the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System at a larger scale.

“An interviewer may ask a person how much physical activity did you get last month, or how much sleep, on average, did you get over the last 30 days?  Normally, people don’t closely monitor their exercise or sleep levels so high-quality data can be difficult to acquire,” said Robert Furberg, PhD, a senior clinical informaticist at RTI and principal investigator of the study. “Our research shows that a strong public health surveillance system requires accurate data that reflects actual behaviors. Consumer wearable devices present an incredible opportunity to obtain more objective, quantitative health data at a low burden to participants, demonstrating the value of this participant-generated health information.”

 The study was conducted as part of RTI’s selection as a phase I and phase II winner of the U.S. Health and Human Services’ Healthy Behavior Data Challenge.  The challenge called for new ways to address the limitations of self-reported health surveillance information and tap into the potential of innovative data sources and alternative methodologies for public health, such as wearable devices, mobile applications, and social media. 

“RTI is excited to help CDC discover ways to more effectively and efficiently improve public health surveillance through the use of emerging technologies,” Furberg said.  “We are optimistic the project will enable CDC to acquire better data that facilitates the prevention and control of disease in the U.S.”