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Apple Donates Smartwatches for mHealth Study on Eating Disorders

The University of North Carolina will be using the Apple Watch 4 in an mHealth study targeting people affected by binge-eating disorder and bulimia nervosa.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- Researchers at the University of North Carolina are launching an mHealth study aimed at improving care management for people living with eating disorders.

The Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders, part of the UNC School of Medicine’s School of Psychiatry, will be handing out 1,000 donated Apple Watches in a connected health project to study genetic factors behind binge-eating disorder (BED) and bulimia nervosa (BN). Participants will use the mHealth wearable to track eating and health habits over a 30-day span, then submit saliva and bacteria samples to digital diagnostics company uBiome for genetic analysis.

The Binge Eating Genetics INitiative (BEGIN) program targets a psychological disorder that affects more than 30 million Americans. Researchers hope that by tracking the daily activities of those living with this condition, they can better understand how to diagnose and treat it.

Eligible participants have to be at least 18, living in the US and dealing with either BED or BN. Once enrolled, they’ll download the Recovery Record mHealth app and log their food intake, moods and goals for 30 days.

At the same time, the participants will be given an Apple Watch 4, which researchers will use to chart heart rate during that 30-day span.

Following that 30-day period, participants will be asked to provide a sample of saliva and bodily bacteria, using a microbiome kit provided by UNC. They’ll then mail both samples to uBiome for analysis, and will have free access to their personalized gut microbiome results.

The project is the first to use the new version of the Apple Watch, unveiled last month, which includes a heart rate sensor. It’s part of an ongoing effort by Apple to bridge the gap between consumer devices like smartwatches and clinical acceptance.

Last year, Apple donated 1,000 smartwatches and $10,000 to Stanford University’s Center for Digital Health to foster innovative mHealth projects targeting population health or clinical workflow. And in the UK, Takeda Pharmaceuticals and Cognition Kit Limited launched a project to track depression symptoms through an Apple Watch app.

mHealth researchers envision the smartwatch as a tool for real-time data capture, as well as chronic care management, messaging and medication management.

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