Photo credit: Carles Rabada/

Date: 2 July 2020

Institution:  Northwestern University

Study published in: Proceedings of the ACM on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies

Digest: Researchers have developed a neckband, named NeckSense, which record multiple eating behaviors. The data collected will help dieticians to provide new ways to intervene. The device has a tiny camera pendant which records all dietary intake pattern.

Meet NeckSense, the first technology to precisely and passively record multiple eating behaviors. It can detect in the real world when people are eating, including how fast they chew, how many bites they take and how many times their hands head to their mouths. This 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. 

A new Northwestern Medicine study with 20 participants validated the technology and was recently published in the Proceedings of the ACM on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies.

The technology currently includes wearing a tiny camera pendant to validate what the necklace is sensing. Eventually the camera will be removed. The next step will be a National Institutes of Health-funded trial to test NeckSense along with several other wearable devices with 60 participants who have obesity and validate the device against standard 24-hour recall.

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, Alshurafa said. Another method, journaling food/drink consumption as it occurs, is subject to error because it is burdensome and disruptive to day-to-day routine.

“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. 

Eventually other sensors will measure heart rate and heart rate variability, emotional arousal detected from sweat, physical activity and location traces to see if an overeating behavior can be caught before it begins. If a person is stressed and their heart rate shoots up, their chances of overeating may increase if they walk past their favorite ice cream shop.

“If you are stress eater, I can detect that from my sensors without you telling me anything,” Alshurafa said.

Most prior research has focused on validating wearable devices in controlled lab settings. 

“This is why the majority of them fail in maintaining their performance in real-world settings,” Alshurafa said. “We validated this device using a wearable video camera in a free-living setting, where people wore the device for two weeks. This allowed us to provide visual confirmation of people’s eating behavior and meals/snacks in real-world settings.”

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.

Next, Alshurafa and colleagues 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.

Other Northwestern authors include Shibo Zhang, Yuqi Zhao, Dzung Tri Nguyen, Runsheng Xu, Sougata Sen and Josiah Hester.

The research was supported by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases grant K25DK113242 of the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation grant CNS1915847.

Original article written by: Marla Paul

Source: Northwestern University

Interested in original study: read here

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