Kate Cagle
Daily Press Staff Writer

Manny Serrano was focused on his computer when he felt a buzz on his wrist. It was his Fitbit Alta reminding him to move.
The Pico neighborhood resident finished up what he was doing, turned off his laptop and took a walk.

“I wouldn’t say I’m obsessed but I’m checking it three or four times a day,” Serrano said of the fitness tracker that is counting his steps, estimating the amount of calories he’s burned and tracking his sleep at night.

As one of about 200 volunteers in a new program by the City of Santa Monica, Serrano isn’t the only one tracking his data. It travels to the cloud and makes its way to digital research firm Fitabase.

The San Diego-based company has worked with universities and medical research institutes from around the world to use Fitbit devices to study health, but Santa Monica may be the first municipality tracking the step counts of its own citizens.

The program launched last Saturday with the first wave of 100 Fitbit Altas wrapped around the wrists of volunteers like Serrano, his older brother and his mom.

The study is in response to the City’s 2017 Wellbeing Index, which found only 38 percent of locals are active for twenty or more minutes a day.

Residents of the 90404 zip code were 35 percent more likely to say the city doesn’t have accessible options to keep fit, according to Public Information Officer Constance Ferrell.

“The Office of Wellbeing sent out an email to everyone in the 90404 zip code to participate,” Farrell said, “because it’s an educational opportunity, we were able to use emails from voter records.”

Fitabase donated the Fitbits for the project and Fitabase will work with the RAND Corporation to sift through the data to look for patterns.

Fitabase says it does not sell or offer access to the information they collect on the behalf of their customers to other companies.

The researchers involved with the project can track the users’ stats and tie them to their age, gender, and other data points.

“There’s a lot of ways to slice and dice (the data) and this gives us the opportunity to see the connections between these variables and people in the community,” Julie Rusk, who leads the City’s Wellbeing Department, said.

For example, the data may help the City parcel out the best times of day or neighborhoods to offer certain activities.
“Getting active is tied to our social interactions,” Rusk said, “and we know it really matters if people are connected to each other.”

Serrano, a former collegiate soccer player, has set the bar high for himself, aiming to walk 15,000 steps every day. The San Francisco State graduate just returned to Santa Monica after getting his degree in kinesiology. After reading so many studies about fitness, he’s excited to participate in one.

“I think it’s great,” Serrano said. “I’m a huge advocate of a healthy lifestyle and the fact the City is interested in how active the residents are is a huge thing. I definitely want to live somewhere where people are active.”


Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press