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R U 2 lazy?

June 17, 2009 |  6:00 am

You know that little voice in your head? The one that nags you to go to the gym after spending a sedentary weekend watching the “Real Housewives of New Jersey” marathon on TV?

USC researchers are trying to convert that voice into a series of text messages that could motivate obese teens to get active and lose weight.

KnowmeThe team has devised a wireless body area network that includes an accelerometer, a heart rate monitor, a GPS device and a sensor that measures the electrical conductivity of skin. All the data is relayed to a Nokia phone, which then transmits it to a secure server.

The device will become so attuned to its wearer that the researchers have dubbed this the KNOWME Networks study, said Donna Spruijt-Metz of the Keck School of Medicine, who described the project last week at the Childhood Obesity Conference in Los Angeles.

“We’ll train the sensors to guess pretty well what you’re doing,” she said.

And if they conclude that you’ve been parked on the couch too long on a sunny afternoon, the network won’t hesitate to let you know.

“We’d like to be able to ping you and say, ‘You’ve been inactive for six hours, and your friend Courtney is three miles away and running – there’s an activity possibility for you,’ ” said Spruijt-Metz, an associate professor in preventive medicine.

The device can tell whether the wearer is walking, running or engaging in another form of physical activity. But there are some exceptions. The current model isn’t waterproof, so swimming doesn't count. The accelerometers also have troubling sensing when the wearer is peddling a bicycle. Team members from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering are working out those kinks, Spruijt-Metz said.

The researchers hope to strap the belts on to about two dozen high school students by the end of the year, with the ultimate goal of tracking – and nagging – 50 obese teens for a week. The study is being funded by a $1-million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

-- Karen Kaplan


Photo: The current version of the KNOWME Networks sensor, worn by a USC undergrad. Credit: Donna Spruijt-Metz

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