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The Hamlyn Centre at Imperial College London today announces the award of a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to accelerate research into new integrated technology systems for accurately measuring dietary intake.
The grant of $1,5-million will fund key investigation projects until April 2020, supporting the research and development of passive dietary intake monitoring tools and wearables that can support nutritional studies in low and middle-income countries.

The integrated system will be validated in rural and urban settings in Kenya and Ghana, with research conducted under the guidance of Principal Investigator Dr Benny Lo in collaboration with Professor Gary Frost.

To enable accurate measurement of individual food and nutrient intake in low and middle-income countries, this project will develop an integrated system for capturing dietary assessments, monitoring individual dietary intake via both wearable camera and fixed (wall or ceiling-mounted) camera technologies.

There is currently no accurate measurement of dietary intake. All current methodologies of assessing food intake have inaccuracy rates of 30-70%, yet accurate assessment of individual nutritional intake is essential to determine true nutritional status, and the nutritional needs of a population — both crucial in order to monitor the effectiveness of public health interventions to maintain nutritional health.

Moreover, existing dietary intake monitoring methods are recognised to be labour-intensive, expensive, and fail to report critical factors such as social hierarchy of food intake. This has represented a major weakness in nutritional science until now — and a significant problem for health policy planning — which this development programme is now aiming to resolve.

To accurately report individual food and nutritional intake automatically and pervasively, this project brings together a consortium of engineering and nutritional experts to develop new technological solutions and diagnostic tools to enable accurate measurement for the first time. New camera technologies — together with novel computer vision and artificial intelligent algorithms — will be developed, with the vision to provide the necessary tools for large-scale nutritional studies in these key regions.

In particular, the project will address the major technological challenges in detecting eating episodes, identifying food types and contents, estimating the quantity consumed, miniaturising sensor design, converting intake into energy and micronutrients, and deducing individual food intake in communal eating.

Commenting on the grant award, Professor Guang-Zhong Yang PhD, FREng, director and co-founder of the Hamlyn Centre at Imperial College London, says: “We are extremely grateful to the Gates Foundation for recognising the importance this research. This major grant will support the development of innovative new tools to aid nutritional health programmes in key regions of the world. This funding enables us to explore the potential for harnessing wearable and fixed camera technologies for the assessment of individual food intake, with the potential to improve the effectiveness of public health policy delivery on a global scale.”

The Hamlyn Centre is part of the Institute of Global Health Innovation (IGHI), which is working towards improving health and reducing health inequalities in developed and developing countries. It aims to overcome global health challenges by harnessing Imperial College London’s interdisciplinary research strengths and its expertise in safe, effective and accessible technologies.