News Column

Study Using Smartphone App to Track Eating Behaviour Seeks Participants

June 2, 2014



WATERLOO, Ontario, June 2 -- The University of Waterloo issued the following news release:

A clinical psychologist at the University of Waterloo is seeking participants for a national study that uses a smartphone app to gather data. The project is recruiting females aged 17 or older with a body mass index (BMI) in the 15-19 range and who struggle with body image and eating.

Study participants will use the app to report on feelings and social interactions about six to 10 times per day for two weeks. The data collected will assist researchers and treatment specialists to better understand the daily experiences of individuals who struggle with extreme body image preoccupation and dieting behaviours, such as those with anorexia nervosa.

"We know very little about the emotions and social experiences that over the course of a day and week, lead individuals to severely restrict their eating, exercise excessively, fast, force vomiting, and so on," said Professor Kelly, primary investigator on the project. "Gathering this kind of data as individuals are going about their day may lead to interventions that will be more effective at helping those who are struggling."

Professor Kelly's app prompts participants throughout the day to fill out a short survey. They can also access additional surveys through the app when they have engaged in certain behaviours, such as skipping meals or exercising, or at the end of the day before they go to bed.

"Self-monitoring tends to help make people aware of patterns they did not know existed, and often leads them to make behaviour changes too," said Professor Kelly, who is also the director of Waterloo'sSelf-Attitudes Lab.

According to the Waterloo psychologists, anorexia nervosa afflicts approximately 13,000 Ontarians, is chronic, costly, and sometimes fatal. The mortality rate associated with anorexia is the highest of all mental disorders and is notorious for the fear, grief, and frustration it triggers in friends and family. The majority who enter treatment drop out and only 30 per cent of sufferers recover.

This study is funded by the Ontario Mental Health Foundation, and is a collaboration between Professor Kelly and researchers based at Toronto General Hospital and The Ottawa Hospital. The project has been reviewed and received ethics clearance through a University of Waterloo research ethics committee. All inquiries are confidential, and all data provided by participants is kept confidential and anonymous.

Potential study participants can visit the lab website (http://uwaterloo.ca/self-attitudes-lab/participate-research) for information and contact self.attitudes.lab@uwaterloo.ca or call 519-888-4567, ext. 33983.

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