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But some medical experts are concerned about ethical questions. Even if people agree to be tracked, researchers worry about intruding into the rest of their lives and the lives of those around them.
"As a researcher, I'm a professional voyeur, and I like to find out whatever I can about human subjects," said William McCarthy, a professor of public health and psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles. "But if I were a subject, I'd be concerned about the level of detail that's being captured about my behavior from moment to moment."
University of Pittsburgh engineer Mingui Sun has developed a necklace equipped with a video camera that records where a person goes and what he or she eats. Before a researcher sees the data, it's filtered by a computer that blurs out other people's faces.
The device is not smart enough to know whether the wearer ate a Big Mac or tofu. So a researcher inputs the food, and the computer calculates the portion size, calories and nutrients.
Sun's lab workers are wearing the prototype, and he hopes to test it on real people by the middle of the year.
Another concern is whether people, particularly youngsters, will stick with it.
Fellow Pittsburgh researcher Dana Rofey recently completed a study of 20 overweight female preteens and teens who wore armbands tracking the number of steps taken and calories burned daily.
Researchers found the armbands were worn 75 percent of the time. Though the study did not include a comparison group, researchers were pleased with the high compliance rate.
On a recent weekday, Castillo and another study volunteer, 13-year-old Eric Carles, headed straight from school to the USC lab, where they strapped the sensors on and went through a sort of circuit training. The project manager timed them as a postdoctoral student recorded the session through a one-way mirror.
Through periods of sitting, standing and exercising, they chatted about scary movies and upcoming exams. Wearing the devices felt "weird" to Castillo initially, but she has since grown used to it.
Castillo admits she doesn't exercise as she often as she would like and has a sweet tooth for chocolate. Carles, who plays after-school sports, confesses he eats a lot. The teens were willing to try anything to help them lose weight.
After enduring more than two hours of required physical activity, the two were allowed to do whatever they want. Researchers called it "free living," and it offered a glimpse into the activities teens would choose when they test the sensors at home.
The two chose to play a music video game. With Castillo on drums and Carles on the guitar, they rocked out to Duran Duran and Bon Jovi as researchers looked on.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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