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Watch what you eat — automatically

Photonics Spectra
Feb 2012

Quick, think back: How many calories' worth of potato chips did you eat last week? Unless you don't like chips, making the answer zero, it might be tough for memory alone to supply the exact number. But keeping track of your intake could help you change any unhealthy eating habits and develop new ones. And soon, tracking calories, exercise and other health-related information could be as easy as getting dressed in the morning.

A new device called eButton attaches to a shirt or blouse and automatically records the wearer's eating and exercise habits; later, the wearer or a dietician can upload the recorded data for an objective review. Any unscheduled exercise or high-calorie snacking will point the way to healthy or unhealthy patterns, helping people control weight and generally maintain a healthier lifestyle.

The eButton (right) takes pictures of your meal, then analyzes it. Courtesy of University of Pittsburgh.

The prototype eButton from the University of Pittsburgh contains a camera, a powerful central processing unit, a global positioning system and a six-axis accelerometer/gyroscope sensor. Optional components could include a wireless connection to a smartphone and the Internet, plus methods of physiological measurement such as electrocardiography. A software platform could allow the user to write apps that target specific objectives.

The instrument could determine how much time the wearer spends watching TV, working on a computer, walking on a treadmill or participating in outdoor activities. It could track where the user buys food, how the food is prepared, which restaurants the user visits and what items are ordered. It also could analyze how long the whole dining experience takes, including interactions with family and friends.

The eButton does not (yet) nag you to eat more healthily.

Retrieving the eButton's data is as simple as transferring pictures from a digital camera onto a computer, said Mingui Sun, lead investigator on the project. For privacy protection, the information is coded to block human faces so that it cannot be read until scanned by a computer.

"This multidimensional approach looks at the overall health of eButton wearers, which is more important than just food and exercise alone," Sun said. He added that the eButton was created to help combat obesity, which has become a major health concern in the US.

American Dietetic AssociationAmericascamerasdiet controleButtonelectronic buttonhealth monitoringimagingJournal of American Dietetic AssociationLighter SideMingui SunobesityPennsylvaniaSensors & Detectorssensors eatingsensors exercisesensors health habitssmart buttonUniversity of Pittsburghweight control

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