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Cordless Sensors New Tool In Obesity Research

    Jan-07-2010

Believe it or not, currently obesity has turned out to be such a major health problem that researchers are using high-tech gadgets to combat this growing malady. In order to have a closer glimpse of the eating and exercise patterns of obese individuals, researchers are now creating cordless sensors that can be worn by people with a view to keep an eye on overweight and fat people as they continue with their routines. These trial gadgets have been developed to follow the number of minutes these people spend on their exercises, the amount of food they eat and also to find out if they are relishing at any fast-food joint at a time when they ought to be relaxing in a recreational area. The idea behind using these experimental devices is to bring down the answers given by the patients to the queries of their healthcare providers, as they often conceal the actual happenings or facts regarding such people's routine activities.

Two obese teenagers are reportedly helping to check these experimental devices in a laboratory located in a Los Angles neighborhood by alternately undertaking a number of actions, including sitting, standing, lying down, running on a treadmill and even playing Wii. While music continues to play in the background, these cordless sensors fitted on their chests keep track of their heart rate, intensity of anxiety as well as their total physical activities. All such data is then transferred to a cell phone. Following her second run on the treadmill, 16-year-old Amorette Castillo, one of the two obese teenagers who is helping to test the devices, agonizes that she is unable to feel her legs.

Usually, the conventional treatment for weight loss depends primarily on the recollections made by the patients regarding what they had for dinner, the amount of time they spent exercising and other such details. Nevertheless, researchers have realized long back that this method of treating obese people may be erroneous as often people tend to forget the details or deliberately conceal the truth. The new cordless sensors are either being developed in the laboratories or made with parts obtained from shops selling electronic items. In fact, a number of identical devices are already available in the market and these comprise a prototype that keeps track of calories used up or burned by an individual by computing the motion, sweat and heat by means of armbands. However, the new cordless sensors that are still in the development and experimentation stages are intended to be further advanced or high-tech, as they will incorporate additionally accurate electronics as well as video cameras at times. On the other hand, there are a number of new methods that also make every effort to offer on the spot pointers as well as individualized healing for people wearing them.

The teens assisting in testing the new cordless sensors at a laboratory of the University of Southern California have been alternating between remaining inactive and lively while the researchers continue to get to the bottom of the technical snags and solve them. Sometime during the later part of this year, a number of people will have the opportunity to wear these body sensors while at home during the weekends. In case people wearing these cordless sensors tend to become too lethargic, they will immediately receive pinging text messages to make them alert. According to Donna Spruijt-Metz, a child obesity expert with the University of Southern California and in command of the project to develop the new cordless sensor, the new device will enable them or the healthcare providers to concurrently identify whether the wearers are active or inactive.

Rapid progresses made in the field of science and technology that have helped to develop sophisticated gadgets like accelerometers that are able to compute the time period as well as the level of exercises undertaken by an individual. These devices also make use of cell phones enabled by Bluetooth and are able to take snaps of the meals as well as send back information to the user. Now, the most pertinent question is whether all these expertise will result into people being slimmer or additionally fit and fine. Scientists are optimistic as they are of the view that when the researchers obtain pictures of what people are eating and the time they remain active or exercise, they will be able to offer individualized counseling on weight loss.

As is well known, obesity is a major problem for those residing in the United States, so much so that the malady is now being considered to be an epidemic in that country. In fact, approximately two-thirds of the US population is either overweight or fat. Several studies undertaken on the subject show that obesity is a main concern for children and adolescents who face an increased risk of developing high blood pressure, diabetes and high levels of cholesterol in the bloodstream as they grow up.

Meanwhile, a pilot project nationally funded by the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana is investigating if people are able to lose additional weight when their routine activities are recorded or pursued by technological means. As a part of the experiment, people partaking in the research are carrying Blackberry Curves along with them with a view to take snaps of what they are eating as well as the leftovers. In addition, they are also wearing gadgets of the dimension of a quarter on their shoes with a view to calculate the number of steps they take every day.

Healthcare providers or counselors meticulously examine the data received by them through these devices and provide individualized weight loss advice either through email or over the telephone. In addition, the weight of the individuals participating in the federally-funded survey is scrutinized every month and the improvements made by them, if any, are compared with the results of another group of people who have been receiving just common tips regarding health and weight loss. Presently, only seven people are participating in this study, but the researchers are optimistic of finally having as many as 40 subjects. According to Corby Martin, who is heading Pennington's Ingestive Behavior Laboratory, the research is an extremely personalized one and this enables the scientists to receive quick responses and know how well they are progressing.

Scientists are optimist that by making use of technology to record the details pertaining to the eating as well as exercise habits of an individual they will be able to evade the self-reporting system followed by the traditional weight loss therapies, as the earlier methods often provide incomplete or false information regarding the individual's routine activities. Nevertheless, the new sensors have made a section of the medical professionals are apprehensive vis-à-vis ethical reasons. In fact, despite the willingness of some people to be tracked by the these sophisticated devices, scientists are actually concerned about encroaching upon the privacy of the individuals who are being tracked through the cordless sensors as well as the lives of people associated with them.

A professor of public health and psychology at the University of California in Los Angles, William McCarthy says that as a researcher, he is a practiced 'peeping Tom' and would definitely want to discover anything that he is able to regarding his human subjects. However, at the same time, McCarthy adds that in case he happened to be a subject, he would definitely be apprehensive regarding the extent of details regarding his activities and behavior that are being tracked and recorded virtually every specific moment.

Meanwhile, it may be mentioned here that an engineer from the University of Pittsburgh, Mingui Sun has created a necklace that is fitted with a video camera that is able to record or document everything regarding an individual - where he or she goes, what they eat and so on. However, in order to protect the privacy of the people associated with the individual or the remaining activities of the individual concerned, all data is filtered by means of a camera that smudges the faces of all other persons prior to the researchers viewing the recordings by the video camera. Nevertheless, this gadget is not sophisticated enough to learn if the individual wearing/ using it had consumed a Big Mac or a tofu. Hence, the data provided by the video camera needs to be analyzed in a different manner. In this case, the researcher keys in the food consumed and the computer works out the size of the ingested food, the calories as well as nutrients added to the system.

All the employees in Mingui Sun's laboratory are said to be wearing the model of the new device (necklace incorporating a video camera) and the engineer from the University of Pittsburgh is hopeful that he will be able to experiment the gadget on other people sometime around the middle of this year. However, there is always a concern and that is whether people, especially younger persons, would prefer to persevere it for long.

Incidentally, Mingui Sun's colleague at the University of Pittsburgh, Dana Rofey has of late concluded a research involving 20 overweight females, who are in their pre-teens and teens. All the participants in this study wore armbands that enabled keeping track of the number of steps taken by the subjects as well as the amount of calories used up or burnt in the process every day. All the participants in the research wore their electronic armbands for approximately three-fourth time of the day. Despite the fact that the research did not incorporate a comparative study with another group, scientists are basically content with the high rate of conformity.

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