Visualizing Communities with The Eatery

Three weeks after launch on Nov. 1, Massive Health‘s The Eatery iPhone app already had two million food ratings. The Eatery is a visual food log that people use to take pictures of the meals they eat throughout the day. All of the app’s users can view the shared entries and rate the meals as either “fit” or “fat.” The crowd-sourced data displayed above is a view of San Francisco hot mapped with fit (green) and fat (red) ratings just after The Eatery was launched. The data suggest that majority of people tend to start the day off eating healthy, and if they lose self-control, it happens around lunch time and into the afternoon. It’s an observation that has continued to hold true over the weeks that the app has been out.

Interestingly, lunches in the financial districts in both New York City and San Francisco are generally rated to be unhealthy compared to lunches in other areas in the city. Are people breaking from their stressful workday to seek out comfort food? Users can drop in on the conversation to find out what’s going on. “The stream of commentary on some of the food photos is pretty funny. People are giving each other a hard time about eating something unhealthy, commenting on how delicious something looks, and even teaching each other about unique cultural and national foods,” said Andrew Rosenthal, business developer at Massive Health.

The Eatery aims to personalize knowledge about health; the more a person uses it and the more information generated, the more feedback a person gets about his or her habits. But the app can also tell communities a lot about the way they eat as a whole, and researchers could potentially use this data to make meaningful comparisons between locations. However, there are two obvious barriers to getting to this point. First, it remains to be seen if user ratings are a reliable way to judge what’s healthy and what’s not. The Eatery prides itself on giving users a way to get around calorie counting. But calorie counting, though not very fun, is an objective and effective way to track health. Also, in order to compare health in different regions, there must be enough data to draw on. Rosenthal noted in his blog post that in the early weeks of this app, there’s a first adopter bias. Because there are more Eatery users in San Francisco than in Wichita, there are more unhealthy meals logged in San Francisco.

That doesn’t mean that Massive Health won’t find that data as more people adopt. The number of ratings last reported is impressive and has presumably grown since last week. Also impressive is that the app has found its way over to Europe and beyond. So Massive Health might well be on its way to producing meaningful data that can be used to compare health in very different places.

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