University of Alabama researchers develop NIH-funded eating tracker that monitors chewing

By Aditi Pai
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AIM eating trackerResearchers at the University of Alabama have developed a diet-tracking sensor that collects information based on the wearer's chewing.

The sensor, called Automatic Ingestion Monitor, or AIM, is fitted around the user's ear and monitors vibrations from jaw movement. AIM is programmed to ignore jaw motions from talking. This data, paired with pictures the user would take of their meals, would give them information about how much and how often they eat.

“Weight gain comes from an unbalance of the energy we take in versus the energy we expend,” University of Alabama Associate Professor and Lead Researcher Dr. Edward Sazonov said in a statement. “We can estimate diet and nutrient intake, but the primary method is self-reporting. The sensor could provide objective data, helping us better understand patterns of food intake associated with obesity and eating disorders.” 

The NIH awarded the project a $1.8 million five-year grant to test the accuracy of AIM. Since the grant was awarded, the university said it has proven that the device is viable, but researchers plan to make it more compact and validate it further through more formal experimentation.

In a future study, the university will test the accuracy of AIM against an existing method, which "measures the body’s elimination rate of stable isotopes of hydrogen and oxygen added to the water". This process takes two weeks.

The University of Alabama said the device would initially be used as a medical device. Researchers could use the data collected by AIM to improve behavioral weight loss strategies or to develop alternative weight loss interventions, according to the university. The device may also be useful for assessing the effectiveness of interventions for eating disorders.

Eventually, though, Sazonov said AIM could be marketed as a consumer device for people who want to keep track of when they eat.