It doesn’t do justice to The Eatery, a free iPhone app from Massive Health, to describe it as just another app, because it doubles as a giant crowd-sourced study of how people actually eat.
As an app, it is very easy to use, and can help you eat in a healthier way going forward. To use it, you simply pull out your phone, establish where you are, take a photo of the food you are currently eating, give it a name (burger) and rate it along a sliding scale as to how healthy you think it to be.
“Within 20-30 minutes you’ll get a rating back as to how healthy it actually is,” explains CEO Aza Raskin.
That feedback from the crowd, and calibrated with nutritionist guidelines says that on average you will rate it 12 percent healthier than you should. (In the case of a burger, others are 2.8 times more likely to say it is unhealthy as you are when you’re eating it.)
The Eatery, which launched about half a year ago, has attracted hundreds of thousands of users in 50 countries who have submitted over 7.68 million ratings of about a half million different foods.
This amount of data about what we are eating, when and where, represents an unprecedented treasure trove of potential insights into how food may affect our health.
For example, as most of us know, what people eat varies widely by regions of the country – San Franciscans eat far more crabs, ceasar salad and cashews than people in other cities, for example.
By tracking these types of food choices by hundreds of thousands of users and mapping them to the cities where they live, it turns out that Massive Health can predict with a great degree of accuracy where obesity rates will be highest. (Philly and Baltimore rate much higher in obesity than San Francisco or New York.)
The company also can measure the influence of the people you eat with – their choices account for over a third of your own choices.
Other findings include:
- We eat 1.7 percent less healthy after each hour that passes in the day.
- Breakfast is the healthiest meal of the day. Dinner is 15.9 percent less healthy.
- People who eat breakfast eat 12.3 percent healthier during the day.
- On the weekend, we consume more unhealthy foods – including 1.4 times as many croissants and 1.6 time percent as much beer.
(A complete data set of the company’s findings as infographics is available here.)
The data captured by this company do not represent mathematical abstractions, but concrete arguments to help people live healthier lives. Make no mistake about it: Aza Raskin is a man on a mission.
He points out that 68 percent of American adults are overweight or obese, 31 percent have high blood pressure, and by 2020, 52 percent are expected to have developed diabetes or prediabetes.
“Whatever our health care system is doing, it simply isn’t working. We need to treat people like people, not patients,” reads a passage on the company’s website.
“To solve problems like diabetes, we have to work the way people do,” Raskin says. “Not the way the health care system works. If we don’t make health products human, people won't live healthier because it doesn't fit with their lives.”
Raskin says that the effort to date is working. “People who use The Eatery after one month are eating 8 percent better (healthier), and after three months it stabilizes at 11 percent better.”
The company, which is backed by a blue-chip list of investors, employs ten people at its offices at Fourth and Townsend. Besides The Eatery, Massive Health will be developing ways to address other serious health issues including the roles played by exercise and stress.