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Microsoft’s New ‘Smart’ Bra Could Stop You From Over Eating

Microsoft’s New ‘Smart’ Bra Could Stop You From Over Eating

Written by Tara Culp-Ressler

A team of engineers at Microsoft Research have developed a high-tech bra that’s intended to monitor women’s stress levels and dissuade them from emotional over-eating. The undergarment has sensors that track the user’s heart rate, respiration, skin conductance and movement — all of which can indicate the type of stressful emotions that lead to over-eating, according to Microsoft researchers. The data is sent to a smartphone app, which then alerts users about their mood.

Researchers hope it could be an innovative solution to stress-induced eating, which is a potential contributor to the nation’s obesity epidemic. Their research on the subject, as well as their design for the new bra, is laid out in a new paper entitled “Food and Mood: Just-in-Time Support for Emotional Eating.”

“It’s mostly women who are emotional over-eaters, and it turns out that a bra is perfect for measuring EKG (electrocardiogram),” Mary Czerwinski, one of the senior researchers at Microsoft, told Discovery News. Czerwinski explained that her team tried to develop an underwear version for men, but it didn’t end up working because underwear is located too far away from the heart.

Even if researchers didn’t intend to make a female-specific product, however, any move to mass market a “diet bra” would certainly have gendered implications. Our society is saturated with images depicting an unrealistic standard of female beauty, and the media is often an active participant in shaming women for their weight. Although tackling the obesity epidemic is a critical issue in the U.S., efforts to address it have been fraught with negative messages about heavier bodies. Public health campaigns in this area often rely on fat-shaming, even though that’s actually an ineffective strategy to get people to lose weight. It’s perhaps no surprise that U.S. girls are developing body issues at increasingly younger ages.

A product that warns women that their emotions are putting them at risk of getting fat plays into all of those issues, as well as contributes to the pervasive societal attitude that women’s emotions make them irrational.

Although stress indicators have been repeatedly linked to changes in individual eating behavior, the scientific body of research on stress, gender and obesity isn’t clear-cut. For instance, periods of particularly severe stress are more likely to lead people to eat less, not more. And stress doesn’t necessarily encourage every woman to turn to junk food. Some studies in the area suggest that the women who already have relatively healthy diets are more likely to choose healthier foods when they’re under stress, while women whose diets are already high in fat and sugar are more likely to crave those things in emotionally trying situations.

And perhaps more broadly, stress-induced eating may not actually be a huge public health problem in the first place. Gudrun Sproesser, a German researcher who recently published a paper on the subject, told Discovery News that emotionally-driven eating isn’t necessarily a negative thing, depending on individuals’ eating patterns during less stressful times. “Stress eaters should not be considered at risk to gain weight by default,” Sproesser explained in a press release about her research. “Our results suggest the need for a dynamic view of food intake across multiple situations, positive and negative.”

Smart bras probably won’t be coming to a department store near you anytime soon. Microsoft researchers are currently figuring how to get the battery life on their device to last longer than four hours.

This post was originally published in ThinkProgress.

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Photo credit: University of Rochester/Microsoft Research

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178 comments

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6:25PM PST on Feb 8, 2014

What a shame it isn't suitable for men because it's too far away from the heart. I was ready to order the matching knickers!

10:18AM PST on Dec 12, 2013

Thank you

5:33PM PST on Dec 11, 2013

There's probably an app for that, too. Thanks.

10:35AM PST on Dec 11, 2013

This type of device emits electromagnetic radiation, as do cell phones. Dr. Oz has just aired a program saying that keeping a cell phone in one's bra can cause breast cancer. Every woman who adapts this behavior should see his 6 December show - and keep all "smart" devices away from breasts! http://www.doctoroz.com/episode/why-you-should-keep-your-cell-phone-out-your-bra

2:39PM PST on Dec 10, 2013

Thank you, Mary Czerwinski for maintaining that standard of the oxymoronic in "Microsoft Works".

Guess Mary read too many Cathy comics back in the 80's and couldn't get that imagery out of her head when she realized they'd failed in creating one for men. "I have to say...something to defend our failure! Oh yeah, we don't need one 'cause women are the ones who need it anyway" :P

The whole stigma of women being more likely than men to overeat emotionally is ridiculous. Just sit around with your male buddies and observe sometime. Some of them will display the same behaviour, and it's about the same-sized cross-section you'll see in women.

After his girl dumps him, or the boss yells at him in front of everyone or whatever. Watch him eat an entire pizza, or tub of KFC, or a package of Oreos. The only difference is, the media didn't get latch onto that image and turn it into "a thing" in every movie and sitcom. (Like the image of a woman crying into her ice cream on the sofa watching Rom-Coms that we all know so well now.)

12:57PM PST on Dec 10, 2013

"See? Miranda gets it." ~Microsoft Exec

12:50PM PST on Dec 10, 2013

If I take seriously, it's offensive.
If I don't take it seriously, it's ridiculous...and it's still offensive.

Heaven knows we women can't possibly think for ourselves or evidence any self-control without our bras telling us what to do, or not do.

6:06AM PST on Dec 10, 2013

This seems to me to be a rather ridiculous 'gimmick' item.

5:38AM PST on Dec 10, 2013

I find this extremely offensive!

Michelle A. - ever heard of diet & exercise??

This is ridiculous.. now women are too stupid to even recognise when they should or should not stop eating..

The problem with obesity I feel is about eating the wrong kinds of food & not doing enough exercise.. I know everyone's body is different & for some it is harder than others but come on..

5:26AM PST on Dec 10, 2013

noted

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