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Using wearable activity trackers to predict type 2 diabetes: Machine learning–based cross-sectional study of the UK Biobank accelerometer cohort

Lookup NU author(s): Benjamin Lam, Professor Mike Catt, Dr Jaume Bacardit, Philip Darke, Ossama Alshabrawy, Professor Michael Trenell, Professor Paolo Missier



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


© Benjamin Lam, Michael Catt, Sophie Cassidy, Jaume Bacardit, Philip Darke, Sam Butterfield, Ossama Alshabrawy, Michael Trenell, Paolo Missier.Background: Between 2013 and 2015, the UK Biobank collected accelerometer traces from 103,712 volunteers aged between 40 and 69 years using wrist-worn triaxial accelerometers for 1 week. This data set has been used in the past to verify that individuals with chronic diseases exhibit reduced activity levels compared with healthy populations. However, the data set is likely to be noisy, as the devices were allocated to participants without a set of inclusion criteria, and the traces reflect free-living conditions. Objective: This study aims to determine the extent to which accelerometer traces can be used to distinguish individuals with type 2 diabetes (T2D) from normoglycemic controls and to quantify their limitations. Methods: Machine learning classifiers were trained using different feature sets to segregate individuals with T2D from normoglycemic individuals. Multiple criteria, based on a combination of self-assessment UK Biobank variables and primary care health records linked to UK Biobank participants, were used to identify 3103 individuals with T2D in this population. The remaining nondiabetic 19,852 participants were further scored on their physical activity impairment severity based on other conditions found in their primary care data, and those deemed likely physically impaired at the time were excluded. Physical activity features were first extracted from the raw accelerometer traces data set for each participant using an algorithm that extends the previously developed Biobank Accelerometry Analysis toolkit from Oxford University. These features were complemented by a selected collection of sociodemographic and lifestyle features available from UK Biobank. Results: We tested 3 types of classifiers, with an area under the receiver operating characteristic curve (AUC) close to 0.86 (95% CI 0.85-0.87) for all 3 classifiers and F1 scores in the range of 0.80-0.82 for T2D-positive individuals and 0.73-0.74 for T2D-negative controls. Results obtained using nonphysically impaired controls were compared with highly physically impaired controls to test the hypothesis that nondiabetic conditions reduce classifier performance. Models built using a training set that included highly impaired controls with other conditions had worse performance (AUC 0.75-0.77; 95% CI 0.74-0.78; F1 scores in the range of 0.76-0.77 for T2D positives and 0.63-0.65 for controls). Conclusions: Granular measures of free-living physical activity can be used to successfully train machine learning models that are able to discriminate between individuals with T2D and normoglycemic controls, although with limitations because of the intrinsic noise in the data sets. From a broader clinical perspective, these findings motivate further research into the use of physical activity traces as a means of screening individuals at risk of diabetes and for early detection, in conjunction with routinely used risk scores, provided that appropriate quality control is enforced on the data collection protocol.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Lam B, Catt M, Cassidy S, Bacardit J, Darke P, Butterfield S, Alshabrawy O, Trenell M, Missier P

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: JMIR Diabetes

Year: 2021

Volume: 6

Issue: 1

Online publication date: 19/03/2021

Acceptance date: 21/01/2021

Date deposited: 19/04/2021

ISSN (electronic): 2371-4379

Publisher: JMIR Publications Inc.


DOI: 10.2196/23364

PubMed id: 33739298


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