The National Science Foundation (NSF) is spending $1.7 million to monitor how and what obese families eat, tracking their eating via sensors they wear on their waists.

The research, conducted by the University of Southern California (USC) and the University of Virginia, began this month. Families will be monitored for months at a time

A leading researcher on the project said the study is a “novel” approach to fighting childhood obesity.

“Recent advances in remote sensing have provided a new paradigm for tracking human behavior, but obesity-related efforts focused directly on diet and activity have been hampered by not only the accuracy of behavior tracking (especially dietary intake) but also the lack of behavioral theories and dynamic models for personalized just-in-time, adaptive interventions (JITAIs),” according to a grant for the project. “Current behavioral science suggests that family eating dynamics (FED) have high potential to impact child and parent dietary intake and obesity rates.”

The project will use wearable wireless sensors to track the family’s eating habits, in the hopes of bring about “behavior modification.”

“The confluence of technology research and behavioral science research creates the opportunity to change the focus of in situ obesity research and intervention from behaviors that have proven difficult to monitor, model, and modify (e.g., what and how much is being eaten) to the family mealtime and home food environment (e.g., who is eating, when, where, with whom, interpersonal stress), providing opportunities for monitoring and modeling (M2) behavior via remote sensing, and the potential for successful behavior modification via personalized, adaptable, real-time feedback,” the grant said.

The project, dubbed M2FED, is using a system of “in-home beacons, wireless and wearable sensors, and smartphones” to collect real time data of what the research subjects are eating.

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