NYU launches app to track picky eating in young children

Researchers and clinicians at NYU Langone Health have developed an app that tracks and analyzes the eating habits of young children and provides real-time solutions to parents with picky eaters.

When to Wonder: Picky Eating is the latest installment in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry’s When to Wonder platform, which helps guide parents through challenging child-development scenarios.

Parents must first consent to participate in the study, and once an initial screening is performed, they can download the When to Wonder app on their smartphone. Any data collected through the app is highly confidential and may only be accessed by NYU Langone Health researchers. The app can measure children’s emotions, behaviors and developments in relation to eating habits, and considers social and demographic factors as well as parent-child interactions.

“This is an exciting moment in the field of child mental health,” says Helen Egger, MD, the Arnold Simon professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, chair of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and founder and co-director of the WonderLab at NYU Langone. “Providing this new tool directly to parents accomplishes two important goals. First, it helps families make well-informed decisions for their children. Equally important, child mental health experts will learn from the information shared by the studys participants to expand our understanding of mental health in children everywhere.”

The interactive app, which was developed for children six and under, includes questionnaires, a kid-friendly food sorting game, and food-related video games. Most importantly, kids and parents can play a game that requires users to label different foods “yummy” or “yucky”. Parents can then play the same game, under the title “Will your child eat this?”. The results help researchers provide feedback to parents, who  may even suggest seeking further consultation.

The app also uses the smartphone’s front-facing camera to record a child’s facial reactions when watching the included short videos. This way, the app can characterize the child’s emotions and attention in relation to certain foods.

The When to Wonder platform was developed by the WonderLab, a digital health initiative within the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. In collaboration with the Digital DesignLab, WonderLab has plans to create more tools that can measure childhood temper tantrums, anxiety, and sleep.

“Our team of child psychiatrists, psychologists, medical ethicists, data scientists, software engineers, and designers is dedicated to creating digital tools that are well-designed, functional, secure, scalable, and fun to use,” says Devin Mann, MD, associate professor in the Departments of Population Health and Medicine, senior director of Informatics Innovation, MCIT, and leader with the Digital DesignLab. “Its uniquely rewarding to help families on an individual level while also developing a large-scale database of information that could lead us in exciting new directions to address the needs of families across the country and around the world.”