x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Think you're fat? There's an app for that

The makers attempted to have the app listed on iTunes but the Apple app store only allows content submitted by a handful of accredited developers.

DUBAI // An app developed by UAE researchers that could help diagnose eating disorders has been rejected by Apple.

The initial application to offer the app on iTunes has been turned down but the creators are hopeful they can make tweaks that meet the strict criteria.

iAna is a mobile version of a clinical tool developed by Justin Thomas, an assistant professor in psychology at Zayed University.

It allows people to manipulate a distorted image of themselves into how they think they look and how they would like to look.

The app was developed over two months this year, partly to aid a student study into perceptions of beauty among Emirati women.

Mr Thomas, also a columnist for The National, tried to have the app listed on iTunes but said the app store only allowed content submitted by a handful of accredited developers.

"It's basically stalled now," he said. "The way it's been developed at present doesn't pass their stringent criteria."

He plans to apply for a grant from his employers for the Dh22,000 required to get the app developed by an accredited company in India.

After manipulating an image of yourself, iAna measures the changes you make against the original image and calculates any discrepancies.

The difference is the measure of what is called body image disturbance, a key symptom of eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia.

"Ninety nine per cent of the time, people overestimate their size," said Mr Thomas. "The take-home message from the software is, you're not as big as you think you are. That's quite a powerful message for an anorexic."

The app is a truncated version of Anamorphic Micro, a body-assessment tool developed by Mr Thomas eight years ago, which is widely used in eating disorder clinics in Britain and Germany.

All going well, the app should be available on iTunes from early next year, Mr Thomas said.

There were concerns that if the app was freely available it might kill the sales of the software version sold to clinics.

To combat this, the developers would probably restrict some of the features available in the full clinical version.

This would fit with the wider, non-academic purpose of making it more publicly available.

"It has got novelty value," said Mr Thomas.

"A person doing it by themselves is mostly in it just for a giggle or for curiosity. Its real utility is in the context of a clinical intervention, in therapy."