Studying the chewing patterns and food habits of obese children

Professor Mauro Farella and his team have developed a device that measures chewing rates and then synchronises this data with images from a wearable camera. Researchers can see what is being eaten, as well as the duration, intensity and pace of the chewing episodes. This Cure Kids funded study will provide invaluable data on the effectiveness of the device as a tool for studying eating behaviours.

Professor Mauro Farella

University of Otago

Obesity is a problem for many young New Zealanders. More than 10 per cent of children aged between 2 and 14 are obese. Prevalence is even higher certain populations, such as Maori and Pasifika.

Recent research has shown that certain eating behaviours contribute to the issue, including different chewing patterns. More data on chewing patterns is important to better understand the associations with obesity, while also informing potential therapies.

Chewing patterns are usually measured in labs, where behaviour doesn’t always reflect reality. If chewing studies are carried out in the home environment, they rely on self-reporting, which is often inaccurate.

Gathering data about chewing and food

Researchers can see what is being eaten, as well as the duration, intensity and pace of the chewing episodes.

Professor Mauro Farella and his team have developed a device that measures chewing rates and then synchronises this data with images from a wearable camera. Researchers can see what is being eaten, as well as the duration, intensity and pace of the chewing episodes. This information has enabled them to develop an algorithm to help assess the relationship between these variables.

During the testing phase, 8 to 10 children will be recruited, enabling the research team to gather data and feedback on the acceptability and efficacy of the device as a tool for studying eating behaviours.

The real-time nature of the device also means it could be used to support live-feedback interventions for children with obesity.

Cure Kids is paying for device development and testing

Professor Farella has a grant from Cure Kids to cover the costs of an automated wearable camera and associated consumables and analysis costs. This will help his team learn the habits and chewing patterns of children with obesity.