Apple Donates Smartwatches To Bulimia Initiative

By Victoria Kim 10/17/18

Participants will use the Apple Watch to monitor heart rates over a month-long period.

woman checking a smartwatch

Apple has pledged to donate 1,000 smartwatches to a study about bulimia nervosa patients.

The purpose of the University of North Carolina study—called the Binge Eating Genetics Initiative (BEGIN)—is to better understand the genetic factors associated with binge-eating disorder and bulimia nervosa.

Participants will use the Apple Watch to monitor heart rates over a month-long period. The smartwatches, which can provide detailed heart data and share data with researchers, will be able to detect any “spikes” in heart activity before a person binges. According to Engadget, if this is the case, “it might be possible to alert caregivers and patients before these acts take place.”

With every new model, the Apple Watch offers better heart-monitoring technology. The latest iteration, “Series 4,” includes an electrical heart sensor that will eventually work with an app that takes EKGs, according to the New York Times.

Bulimia nervosa is defined as a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder where people “binge and purge.” This refers to the act of consuming large amounts of food, then attempting to purge it from the body to prevent weight gain, by vomiting or abusing laxatives, weight-loss supplements, diuretics and enemas.

Complications from bulimia nervosa include dehydration (which can lead to more serious complications such as kidney failure), heart problems (such as irregular heartbeat or heart failure), severe tooth decay or gum disease, absent or irregular periods in females, digestive problems, anxiety, depression, personality disorders, self-injury and suicidal thoughts.

Participants in BEGIN will also spend 10 minutes per day recording their diets, goals and moods. Researchers will search for common genetic traits among participants using at-home gene and micro biome sample kits.

As smartwatches offer more health-monitoring tools, some people are taking a less conventional—and arguably misguided—approach at applying technology to harm reduction.

In July, CNBC reported that some adults are using the health-tracking technology of smartwatches and Fitbits to stay “safe” while using drugs.

“If someone says, ‘Let’s do a line,’ I’ll look at my watch. If I see I’m at 150 or 160, I’ll say, ‘I’m good.’ That’s totally fine. Nobody gives you a hard time,” said “Owen,” a man from San Francisco who says his Fitbit keeps him from overdoing it at parties, nightclubs and even Burning Man.

“I don’t really know what’s happening in my body when I smoke some weed or do some cocaine. I can read information online, but that’s not specific to me. Watching your heart rate change on the Fitbit while doing cocaine is super real data that you’re getting about yourself,” he said.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr