Rethinking Healthcare

iPhone app tracks cities' eating habits: Copenhagen best and Philadelphia worst

Posting in Cities

The Eatery iPhone app keeps a photographic diary of your meals, providing personalized crowd-sourced eating assessments for you and an endless supply of food habit data for health statisticians.

Yesterday's post on food deserts raised some questions regarding what people in different locales are actually eating.

Co.Exist reports that Eatery, a new iPhone app, gives those details, down to the number of brussel sprouts consumed. At least by iPhone users (yes, I realize the implications of privilege in that demographic disqualify these numbers from representing all eaters).

Eatery recently release statistics from the food logs of hundreds of thousands of users from over 50 countries. The infographic at right summarizes the findings from the last five months of user data.

Some of the conclusions fall right along with stereotypes. Compared to users in other cities:

  • Copenhagen eats more rye
  • San Francisco eats more crab
  • New York eats more wheat
  • Philly eats more cheddar
  • Sao Paulo eats more beans
  • Tokyo eats more fish and tofu

Other findings, like that salad was the most popular food, surprised me.

Copenhagen came out on top in terms of peer ratings of its citizen's food choices, and New York wins out stateside. Of course, city health rankings can be terribly subjective. A quick Google search finds Reykjavik (Iceland), Portland (Oregon), Raleigh (North Carolina), and Amsterdam on the top of other lists. Perhaps a better title for these findings would be "Which nutrition-obsessed iPhone owners eat best, as judged by other iPhone owners?"

Eatery users take a picture of every food they're about to eat. They then get crowd-sourced feedback on the healthfulness of their food, kind of like a hot-or-not for meals. The app tracks your eating habits over time, to give you a bigger-picture view of your consumption.

Share-happy users can even have their food choices uploaded to Facebook, so that "your friends can keep you honest and give feedback on your eating choices," according to Eatery's website.

That's taking things a little far for my tastes (tastes!), but studies have shown that photographic food diaries can succeed in altering user's diets.

And who doesn't want to see their food from the last week displayed in Pinterest fashion?

The app's cofounder Aza Raskin says that they're already seeing its affect on users. Co.Exist's Ariel Schwartz reports:

"According to Raskin, users ate 8% better (based on crowdsourced food rankings) after 30 days, and 11% better after three months."

Eatery was developed by Massive Health. The company creates digital applications to help people improve their health habits. They hope to create future apps for stress, exercise, and sleep.

[via Co.Exist]

Photo: Massive Health

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Audrey Quinn

Contributing Writer

Audrey Quinn is a Brooklyn-based multimedia journalist focused on health, tech and the economy. Her radio stories can be heard on Marketplace, Studio 360, PRI's The World, NPR's Latino USA, Deutsche Welle Radio and The Believer Magazine podcast. In addition to her work with CBS Interactive she produces multimedia science stories for online publications and is a teaching assistant at the Transom Story Workshop. Her investigative work has been awarded by the Fund for Investigative Journalism and The Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure