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In Texas schools, a picture’s worth 1,000 calories

In Americas, Big Brother on May 13, 2011 at 11:53 am

By Paul J. Weber

Smile, schoolchildren. You’re on calorie camera.

Health officials trying to reduce obesity and improve eating habits at five San Antonio elementary schools unveiled a $2 million research project Wednesday that will photograph students’ lunch trays before they sit down to eat and later take a snapshot of the leftovers.

A computer program then analyzes the photos to identify every piece of food on the plate — right down to how many ounces are left in that lump of mashed potatoes — and calculates the number of calories each student scarfed down.

The project, funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, is the first of its kind in the nation. The cameras, about the size of pocket flashlights, point only toward the trays and don’t photograph the students. Researchers say about 90 percent of parents gave permission to record every morsel of food their child eats.

“We’re trying to be as passive as possible. The kids know they’re being monitored,” said Dr. Roger Echon, who works for the San Antonio-based Social & Health Research Center, and who is building the food-recognition program.

Here’s how it works: Each lunch tray gets a bar code sticker to identify a student. After the children load up their plates down…

Full article…

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