NeckSense, a new technology, can detect in the real world when people are eating, how fast they chew, how many bites they take and how many times their hands head to their mouths, according to a study of Northwestern University (NU).
The data, along with other information like heart rate, will help scientists understand what leads to binging or troublesome eating behaviors and how to intervene to stop those behaviors in real time, said the study posted on the website of NU on Wednesday.
The data also will include self-reported physical details such as and how hungry or satiated you feel or psychological details such as how depressed or how anxious you are. The user also will upload photos of their food via a smartphone app.
The technology includes wearing a tiny camera pendant to validate what the necklace is sensing. Eventually the camera will be removed.
A Northwestern Medicine study with 20 participants has validated the technology.
"The arsenal of the dietician has been upgraded," said lead study author Nabil Alshurafa, an assistant professor of preventive medicine at NU Feinberg School of Medicine. "The ability to easily record dietary intake patterns allows dieticians or even laypeople making use of our tech to deliver timely digital interventions that occur as eating is happening to prevent overeating."
"The beauty of this is that it requires almost no effort on the part of the wearer," he said.
Measuring people's eating patterns allows scientists to begin to understand how these variables are associated with overeating, providing them with new ways to intervene.
Currently, dieticians must rely on self-reporting based on 24-hour recall by the patient, a notoriously unreliable method because people forget what they ate or fabricate their diet. Another method, journaling food/drink consumption as it occurs, is subject to error because it is burdensome and disruptive to day-to-day routine.
In the next step, the researchers will test NeckSense along with several other wearable devices with 60 participants who have obesity and validate the device against standard 24-hour recall, and will tweak the necklace to make it more fashionable and test the feasibility of real-time interventions.
NeckSense is part of a broader study called SenseWhy, which will assess if wearing sensors will help us understand people's problematic eating behaviors in real time.
The technology has been published in the Proceedings of the ACM on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies.