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Apple to donate 1,000 smartwatches for study on eating disorders

The Apple Watch will be used in a study that’s looking at eating disorders. To this end, the Cupertino outfit will donate a free smartwatch to each of the 1,000 participants.

Essential reading: Top fitness trackers and health gadgets

The BEGIN (Binge Eating Genetics Initiative) study will be conducted by the University of North Carolina’s medical school. The group of researchers is going after a huge problem – binge eating. This is a condition defined by regular episodes where people eat large quantities of food uncontrollably in a short period of time.

The disorder affects about three times the number of people diagnosed with anorexia and bulimia combined. According to the Eating Recovery Center, around 8% of American adults suffer from the condition during their lifetime. Nearly a half of these have a comorbid mood or anxiety disorder. One in ten have a substance abuse disorder, most commonly alcohol use.

The month long study is hoping to recruit some 1,000 participants, ages 18 or older, who have experience with either binge eating or bulimia nervosa. The latter is a condition where the person has a distorted body image and an obsessive desire to lose weight. It is characterized by binge eating followed by compensatory behavior such as self-induced vomiting or purging.

“We need to collect data from a whole lot of people to see what it looks like,” said Bulik.

“We want to know if it has a biological and behavioral signature.”

Those taking part will be outfitted with an Apple Watch. Researches plan to use heart rate statistics from the device to see if there are spikes before binge eating episodes. The aim is to see if there is a biological change that would show up in the Apple Watch data.

Participants will also have access to a mobile app called Recovery Record. This software will allow them to log their feelings and share that information with doctors.

“We’re interested to find out what happens in the time period leading up to the binge and the purge,” said Jenna Tregarthen, CEO of Recovery Record.

“And we hope we can anticipate and ultimately change the course of that episode.”

Furthermore, those who enroll will receive tests to analyze their genetics and bodily bacteria. This is so researchers can identify any genetic links for the condition.

Scientists are planning to use all this data to better understand eating disorders, and binge eating in particular. The hope is this will lead to the development of some sort of an alert system that identifies binge eating episodes before they happen.

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