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A Wearable Gadget for Dieting and Weight Loss

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shutterstock_187634345Another gadget for health conscious people who want to control and monitor their food intake is under development at the University of Alabama. Dr. Edward Sazonov, an associated professor of electrical and computer engineering, has acquired a $US1.8 million research grant from the U.S. National Institute of Health to develop a wearable gadget that measures the mass and energy content of ingested food. The gadget is called an Automatic Ingestion Monitor (AIM).

The accuracy of the AIM will be measured against other methods of calculating calorie count, nutrients and fat content in food consumption and will be progressively enhanced in design and functionality.

Background

It is now a well established fact that obesity has become a worldwide epidemic. In Australia alone, 25% of adults are considered obese, and, with some notable exceptions, the situation is equal or worse in parts of Europe, the US, and Asia. The inevitable results are personal health issues and rapidly mounting health care costs. The flow-on effects that cause a range of modern day diseases are even more serious. As an example, 29 million American people suffer from type 2 diabetes, a disease with its roots in unhealthy nutrition that cause elevated blood sugar levels. How can the proposed gadget help in reversing these trends?

The root cause of obesity is still a widely debated issue but we can reliably say that nutrition and lifestyle are vital factors. There are hundreds of different dieting plans and more than 1,500 diet books available online. Still, obesity rates are climbing.

With calories and energy intakes so difficult to measure manually, the wearable gadget now under development may offer an easier solution. So, what exactly does this gadget promise?

The Automatic Ingestion Monitor (AIM)

The idea behind the AIM is to better understand the composition of food intake as a factor of obesity and eating disorders. It stems from the fact that any manual process of measuring food intake, commonly called calorie counting, is at best tedious and inaccurate. Moreover, calorie counting is now a discredited method because the type of calories consumed is as important as the amount consumed.

The AIM is developed as a wearable gadget carried behind the ear. The gadget includes a camera that captures images of the food eaten. It then calculates the mass and energy content of the food digested.

It then senses vibrations from jaw movements while a person chews the food but it filters out any vibration caused by other activities like talking.

This is where the functionality of the AIM gets a little difficult to “digest”.

Will this gadget be successful as an aid in combating weight gain and obesity? Some serious doubts come to mind.

  • The quotation attributed to the inventor that “weight gain comes from an unbalance of the energy we take in versus the energy we expend” is no more than a re-wording of the well known “calories in vs. calories out” phrase and is only one small part of the root causes of obesity.
  • How can images of food eaten reveal what ingredients the foods contain?
  • While jaw movement (vibration) may reveal how much food a person consumes, how can it detect harmful ingredients in the food eaten?
  • Healthy nutrition is as much about what not to eat as what to eat. There also need to be a balance between nutrients, fats and carbohydrates. How can the AIM detect these ratios?
  • In the U.S., the Food Manufacturers Association (FMA) has spent millions of dollars to prevent the introduction of legislation that mandates accurate and complete food labeling. While accurate food labeling may be the best protection we have against harmful ingredients, how is this AIM going to help in detecting genetically modified organisms, artificial sweeteners, chemical substances, trans fats and other harmful ingredients that contribute to obesity?

It may seem prejudicial to judge a gadget before the five year research project that dictates its creation has been completed but there are surely a large number of questions that need to be answered.

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