Monday, June 25, 2012

America is Eating Healthy (According to one App)

I'm a big fan of mobile eating apps.  I think they have the potential to change eating habits and change our food environment.  However, I think many of them are purely driven by tech and gaming experts.  This is not a bad thing.  But without involving people who understand medicine and nutrition, the apps are unlikely to actually help people become healthier.

One of the hot new apps is The Eatery, as discussed in this article:
App Shows Promise for Hacking Eating Behavior - Technology Review

Users take a picture of their food.  Other users rate how healthy it is.  10 (green) means super health and 0 (red) means very unhealthy.  Here's a map of the ratings of healthy meals:
Now anyone who understands nutrition will be puzzled by the fact that most of the United States is green, meaning most of the meals people take pictures of are healthy.  Thus, we are all eating healthy and there isn't really a problem with poor eating in this country.

So there are two possibilities:
     1. The people who use the app are mostly healthy eaters.  (Then what purpose does the app have?)
     2. Most of the user ratings are false.  (Most people don't know what a healthy meal looks like.)

I think either possibility is true.  Option 1 will be fixed when there is an expansion of mobile technologies.  Also, if research shows these apps work, then professionals might recommend them to "unhealthy" eaters, expanding the reach of the apps.

To fix option 2, tech companies need to align with nutrition and medical professionals.  This is difficult, as the two types of industries often have different goals.  But it is possible, and together we could change the way we all eat.
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