Big Diet Data is Coming... Will You Listen?

Posted on by Jared Rice

Have you ever kept a diet diary, writing down in detail every morsel of food you eat? What about an exercise log, tracking your workouts and fitness progress? These methods have been used as assessment and diagnostic tools for years by nutritionists and trainers. In addition to being valuable for professionals, food and exercise logging can be a great way to raise personal awareness of your own habits, identifying how frequently you actually get outside for a run, or just how many cookies you consume over an entire day of having just one here and there. The world of technology and apps has revolutionized this traditionally tedious process. The trend of self quantification has created products like Fitbit and Nike Fuelband that allow you to log and track your movement and exercise all day, just by wearing the device. These devices integrate with web-smartphone applications like Lose It! and MyFitnessPal, designed as calorie-counter weight loss apps, aiming to balance your daily intake with your calorie expenditure. These apps have proven to be so fun and effective for promoting healthy change in diet and exercise habits (MyFitnessPal has nearly 40 million users) that they are beginning to change the landscape of the weight loss industry. Heavyweights like Weight Watchers, despite having a similar online tool (not free), are starting to feel the heat from free competitors. Meantime, MyFitnessPal recently accepted a significant capital investment to grow its business. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, the company plans to use the funds to analyze the growing mountain of data it collects from users in order to make dietary recommendations back to them. Just think, owning every nutritional detail of every food, every meal and snack eaten and bout of exercise performed coupled with the weight change patterns for 40 million people! That’s a larger and more powerful data set than any scientific diet study that’s ever been done. When big health data starts telling us what to do, will you listen? What if MyFitnessPal tells you a high protein diet is best for you, or that breakfast cereal will dash your weight loss goals, could you trust it?