The Apple Watch is in use by scientists across the country to monitor everything from the symptoms of Parkinson's disease to postpartum depression. Now, researchers are aiming to see how well the device can track eating disorders.
The University of North Carolina's medical school will soon be starting a study called BEGIN, which stands for Binge Eating Genetics Initiative, to better understand overeating. People with binge eating disorder often eat large amounts of food uncontrollably in a small period of time. Those who follow with compensatory behavior like purging or excessive exercise are typically diagnosed with bulimia nervosa.
Cynthia Bulik, founding director of the Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders at UNC and one of the researchers behind BEGIN, is hoping to recruit 1,000 participants, ages 18 or older, who have experience with either binge eating disorder or bulimia nervosa. Once they're enrolled, they can sign up with a mobile app called Recovery Record, which is designed to help users log their thoughts and feelings in a digital format, and share that information with their doctor ahead of a session. It requires about 10 minutes a day of participation.
Each participant will be given a free watch, courtesy of Apple, and researchers will monitor their heart rate using the device's sensor over the course of a month to see if there are spikes before binge eating episodes. It's likely that a binging and purging episode would cause some biological change that would show up in the Apple Watch data, according to Bulik.