Picky Eating mHealth App Provides Real-Time Data to Parents

Samara Rosenfeld
FEBRUARY 26, 2019
virtual care, mhealth, big data
Thumbnail has been resized courtesy of NYU Langone Health. Image above has been modified via ConsejoNutriciona.

A new mobile health (mHealth) application was launched today by researchers and clinicians from the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at New York University (NYU) Langone Health to study children’s food preferences and emotions to learn more about picky eating habits — an effort that could fuel broader mental health research.

The mHealth app, called When to Wonder: Picky Eating, provides real-time suggestions for parents based on their child’s eating habits.

Picky Eating contains questionnaires, video activities and games for the children and parents, so the parents can get a better understanding of the foods their child will eat.

>> READ: Can eHealth Improve Teen Mental Illness? Look at the Data

For example, child participants will be able to play a food sorting game which allows them to sort foods as “yummy” or “yucky.” The parents will also sort what they think their child’s preferences are and will be able to see where the mismatches are and how the child responds.

A video feature allows the child to watch a short clip while the front-facing camera on the smartphone being used records the child and allows the child’s emotions to be characterized.

The mHealth app also gives parents evidence-based advice on their child’s preferences, eating behaviors and emotions and provides suggestions on how to support healthy eating.

In order to have access to the app — which is available in the Apple Store and on Google Play — users are screened for eligibility. Criteria consist of being 18 years or older, having a child six years or younger and being the parent or legal guardian of the child. Users then have to give informed consent to be enrolled in the study after downloading Picky Eating.

Researchers will collect anonymized data and will securely store the information obtained through the mHealth app at NYU Langone Health. Data will be used to examine children’s emotions, behaviors and development, along with the impact of social and demographic influences, parent-child interactions and other risk factors on children’s development and mental health.

According to Helen Egger, M.D., chair of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and founder and co-director of the WonderLab at NYU Langone, this new digital health tool accomplishes two goals.

“First, it helps families make well-informed decisions for their children,” she said. “Equally important, child mental health experts will learn from the information shared by the study’s participants to expand our understanding of mental health in children everywhere,” she added.

And the researchers at NYU Langone Health are not stopping with Picky Eating.

The team plans to use the When to Wonder platform to launch additional digital tools that address other early childhood challenges like temper tantrums, anxiety and sleep.

With the rise of telemedicine, there is a paradigm shift in the way mental health professionals can reach those in need, said Timothy L. Verduin, Ph.D., director of technology innovation in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and co-director of the WonderLab.

“This new apps-based initiative is a novel way to address the global lack of access to care and knowledge about child mental health by putting evidence-based information right in a parent’s pocket,” Verduin added.

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