$1M NIH grant to nudge obese teens off the couch

By Brian Dolan
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Thanks to a $1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, University of Southern California researchers have developed a wireless body area network (BAN) that they plan to leverage to help overweight and obese teenagers adhere to their daily fitness regimens. 

The USC team's BAN consists of an accelerometer, heart rate monitor, GPS device and a sensor that measures electrical conductivity of the skin. The data is then routed wirelessly to a Nokia phone, which can then transmit it to a secure server for later viewing. USC calls the project the KNOWME Networks study because the goal is to train the sensors so well that they know what the wearer is doing. 

"We'd like to be able to ping you and say, ‘You've been inactive for six hours, and your friend Courtney is three miles away and running -- there's an activity possibility for you,'" Donna Spruijt-Metz of the Keck School of Medicine, an associate professor in preventive medicine, told the LA Times in a recent interview.

The system reportedly determines whether a user is walking, running or being physically active some other way, but since it's not waterproof -- no swimming. The system's accelerometers also have trouble determining whether the user is on a bike, so that form of exercise is out for now, too.

The next step for the researchers is to conduct a trial with a couple dozen overweight high school students by year-end, then they plan to nudge and track 50 obese teens for a week.

In April mobihealthnews met up with Rice University assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering Lin Zhong whose projects included a BAN for obese children:

Zhong described a pilot program Rice carried out to monitor obese children's activity levels and how they correlate to fluctuations in their weight. The kids only needed to attach a sensor with a microSD card built-in to their clothing and keep a Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone in their pocket. Zhong said they didn't continuously monitor the data because transmitting it in real-time, all the time would drain the battery of the devices. Physicians and other caregivers, however, were able to pull data whenever they wanted just to ensure the system was working. At the end of the month the caregiver could download all of the data for analysis. In the future the system could include prompts and tips for kids to keep them on certain fitness regimens.

Read the full article over at the LA Times