Clemson University researchers are making every bite count
CLEMSON, S.C. — When it comes to obesity issues, every bite counts.
Two Clemson University researchers are showing obesity professionals a new tool to help them track intake behavior at the Obesity Society’s Annual Scientific Meeting in Orlando Oct. 1-3, one of the world’s largest gatherings of obesity professionals.
Psychology professor Eric Muth and electrical and computer engineering professor Adam Hoover have created the Bite Counter, a measurement device that will make it easier to track how much a person eats. Worn like a watch, the Bite Counter tracks a pattern of wrist-roll motion to identify when the wearer has taken a bite of food. Each time they take a bite of food or sip of liquid the device automatically counts, yielding an unbiased estimate of intake at the end of the meal (Watch the video).
“At the societal level, current weight-loss and maintenance programs are failing to make a significant impact. Studies have shown that people tend to underestimate what they eat by large margins, mostly because traditional methods rely upon self–observation and reporting,” said Muth. “Our preliminary data suggest that bite count can be used as a proxy for caloric count.”
The advantage of the Bite Counter is that it is automated so that user bias is removed. The device can be used anywhere, such as at restaurants or while working, where people find it difficult to manually track and remember calories.
“It is a difficult, if not impossible task for an individual to estimate how many calories they eat in a restaurant” said Muth. “Individuals have little idea how the foods were prepared or what ingredients are hidden in the food. In addition, they have to be able to estimate the portions of the individual ingredients and foods that make up the meal and people are susceptible to many perceptual illusions due to plate sizes and other container sizes.”
The device is not based on what happens in a single bite (i.e. exact grams or specific food nutrients), but in how it simplifies long-term monitoring. For commercialization, Bite Counters eventually will be sold as simple consumer electronics alongside such familiar devices as activity monitors, heart-rate monitors, GPS watches and pedometers. A device is available from Bite Technologies now for professional and research use at http://www.icountbites.com.
“The device only requires that the user press a button to turn it on before eating and press the button again after the meal or snack is done. In between, the device automatically counts how many bites have been eaten,” Hoover said.
In laboratory studies, the device has been shown to be more than 90 percent accurate in counting bites, regardless of the user, food, utensil or container, according to Hoover. However, there are few existing data on how bite count relates to calorie count or how a bite-counting device could be used for weight loss. The device will allow for such data to be more easily collected.
The device store logs of bite-count activities, which will provide researchers baseline data for developing guidelines for completely new and innovative weight-loss studies. Devices are being tested in an intake reduction study at the Weight Management Center at the Medical University of South Carolina under the direction of Dr. Patrick O’Neil. Data being collected at Clemson University will examine predictors of bite count such as gender and body mass index.
The Obesity Society’s Annual Scientific Meeting brings together the leading players in the field of obesity from world-renowned speakers, researchers and clinicians to educators, advocates, policymakers and practitioners. The meeting provides is a forum for increasing knowledge, stimulating research, and promoting better treatment for those affected by this disease.
Bite Technologies LLC is a Clemson University start-up company. A patent is pending for the Bite Counter.
(Editor’s Note: Professor Muth will be available for interviews on site Sunday, Oct. 2 12:30-1:30 p.m. at the meeting at Orlando World Center Marriott, Cypress Ballroom and at other times Oct. 2-3 through arrangements with Clemson University Media Relations. 864-656-3859.)