“It is not every day that as a researcher, you discover that
your primary data collection instrument is a desirable object that people have
already integrated in their lives,” Furberg said.
Dr. Kelly Evenson, a research professor of epidemiology at the Gillings School, led the study
as part of the University Scholars Program at RTI International.
Evenson was matched up with Robert Furberg’s
project at RTI International because their work complemented each other, Furberg said.
“Given her background as a physical activity epidemiologist,
and given my interest in censor-based, passive, longitudinal data collection
using smart phone applications or different kinds of wearables or implantable
devices, it seemed to be a natural fit," he said. "She is interested in
measuring the behavior, and I am interested in kind of measuring anything.”
Evenson said they decided to study the validity
of these products after realizing no one had tested them before. She began the study unsure of the accuracy of the
trackers, but her research proved their validity.
“If you had asked before the review, I would have said they
probably aren’t quite so good, but they really are.”
The University Scholars Program at RTI allows faculty
members at universities with institutional history with RTI, like UNC and Duke University,
to collaborate with researchers for a year. The faculty members are selected
through an application process and then matched to a project.
Evenson and Furberg plan to continue working
together and are looking to continue their research with physical activity
Sandra Martin, the associate dean for research at the Gillings School of Global Public Health, said the relationship between the Gillings School and RTI created a collaborative experience for the study.
“We are going more and more towards team science, where there are so many specialties now and so many interesting public health problems that it really helps to have a team approach with different types of specialists on it," she said.
Martin said the research completed in the school is used to inform public health programs and improve public health.
“We want to make sure that our research is not something
that just gets published in a journal and sits on a shelf and gets dusty," she said. "We
want to make sure people are using it to really improve the health of the public.”