Battling the bulge

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: March 15th, 2010
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

The battle against the bulge is getting some high-tech weaponry.

For many years, doctors had to rely on patients to self-report the amount of food they were eating and how much they exercised. But that may be a thing of the past. Now wireless devices are allowing researchers to monitor overweight and obese people as they go about their daily lives.

Wondering how much someone had to eat for dinner? A University of Pittsburgh engineer designed a necklace equipped with a video camera that records where a person goes and what he or she eats. Don’t know whether a patient has gotten enough exercise for the day? Accelerometers help measure the duration and intensity of a workout.

Why is this a priority? Quite simply, obesity is an epidemic in America. More than two-thirds of the population is either overweight or obese. Children and adolescents are also at risk for heart disease, hypertension and diabetes as they get older.

The effectiveness of the wireless devices is still being tested. One federally funded study in Louisiana equips patients with Blackberry devices to snap pictures of their meals and their leftovers. They also wear a small device on their shoes that counts their steps. Right now, the study only has seven people, but researchers hope to one day have at least forty.

The devices have raised privacy concerns. Scientists are worried about intruding too deeply into the patients’ lives and the lives of those around them. But the potential health benefits outweigh the drawbacks, many say.

So put down the sandwich, pick up a Blackberry and get moving!