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New 'Bite Counter' a pedometer for eating

Device tracks wrist-roll motion to tally how many bites people take in hopes they can better gauge not calories or nutrition, but at least consumption.

The device can be turned on and off to tally wrist-roll motion while eating. Clemson University

A psychology professor and an electrical and computer engineering professor at Clemson University in South Carolina have teamed up to develop a watch-like device that tracks wrist-roll motion to count how many bites the wearer takes.

In the lab, they report, their Bite Counter has been more than 90 percent accurate in tallying bites regardless of the food, utensil, container, or user.

Clemson University

They say the device, which can be turned on and off at will, is something of a pedometer for eating. It's certainly not tracking types of food. But even if it's intended to monitor mere quantity of consumption, it can only be so accurate.

For instance, the number of bites it takes my husband to get to the bottom of a pint of ice cream is far smaller than the number of bites it takes me; I savor my desserts in particular with tiny licks and nibbles. And what about those eaters (certainly not me!) who lick the bowl, wrists not rolling, when alone? Or who take in most of their calories through a straw? Et cetera.

Because there is little data on how bite counts relate to calorie intake, the psychology professor Eric Muth says they'll be studying their device closely, starting with 20 subjects being tested for one month:

At the societal level, current weight-loss and maintenance programs are failing to make a significant impact. Studies have shown that people tend to underestimate what they eat by large margins, mostly because traditional methods rely upon self-observation and reporting. Our preliminary data suggest that bite count can be used as a proxy for caloric count.

Expect to see the Bite Counter, which stores logs of activity locally, in stores and on wrists soon; the team says manufacturing is already under way.