Researchers from universities in the UK, the Netherlands and Canada examined the impact of the so-called smart fork which was fitted with sensors to measure eating rate and actuators to alert those taking part in the study with vibrations when they were eating too quickly.
The study involved a total of 114 participants and was designed to see if the smart fork could slow eating rate, satiation and food intake, potentially helping reduce global obesity levels.
People who eat more slowly feel sated quicker and eat less but eating rate is hard to control because of its automatic nature.
The study chose to use real-time vibrotactile feedback as an alternative to visual and auditory feedback which, although effective in reducing food intake and reducing weight loss, can be cumbersome to use in real-life eating contexts.
By providing real-time vibrations, there is little visual and auditory disruption. This method also has the potential to raise awareness about eating speeds without interrupting conversation.
Studies have previously shown vibrotactile feedback to help with posture control and navigation.
The smart fork delivered real-time feedback at 10 second intervals between bites, so if a participant in the study ate took quickly (before the end of the 10 second interval), he or she would feel a gentle vibration in the handle of the fork.
The majority of the 114 participants in the study, carried out in a laboratory setting, were graduate and undergraduates, with 70 women and 44 men taking part.
Only a random number of the 114 participating were subject to the feedback control (FC) while others did not receive any feedback (NFC) regarding their eating rate.
All participants were served a lunch meal of 880 g of pasta bolognese or a vegetarian equivalent but were not allowed to drink.
No tangible difference in amount eaten
The primary finding from the study was those subject to FC had fewer bites per minutes - 4.55 compared to 5.28 in the NFC group.
The study also found that those in the FC group consumed 66% of their bites outside the 10 second time interval, compared to only 49% in the NFC.
But the study found that these differences did not translate into a tangible difference in the total amount of food consumed, as participants in the FC group consumed 435.77 g of food compared to the 428.21 g consumed by the NFC group.
A secondary outcome from the study found those in the FC group consumed their meal slower, 9 mins 44 seconds, compared to the 8 minutes and 12 seconds it took for those in the NFC group.
The results support part of the study hypothesis that a smart fork can reduce eating rate, however the hypothesis that a reduction in eating rate would lead to increase satiation and decrease food consumption, was not supported
The study authors advised that further studies should examine the benefits of the smart fork outside of a laboratory in a “real world” environment and amongst different population demographics.
Source: Appetite Journal
First available online 10 February 2017, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2017.02.014
"The effect of real-time vibrotactile feedback delivered through an augmented fork on eating rate, satiation, and food intake"
Authors: Roel C.J. Hermans, Sander Hermsen, Eric Robinson et al.