For the growing number of Americans trying to lose weight, research has shown that tracking dietary intake often results in more pounds lost. But logging food intake and counting calories, fat, protein and carbohydrates can be tedious and inaccurate, even with some of the apps, devices and online tools designed to help.
“We have fairly advanced and accurate methods to measure physical activity; on the other hand, current methods of measuring dietary intake are challenging and less accurate,” said Carol Boushey, an adjunct professor in the department of nutrition science at Purdue University.
Boushey is leading a multidisciplinary team at Purdue in its quest to commercialize a mobile phone application that allows users to get all of that nutrition information by taking a photo of their meal. Images are sent to a central server that uses algorithms to identify the food, determine the volume and density of it and send nutrition facts back to the user.
The app is part of a project called the Technology Assisted Dietary Assessment, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health.
Edward Delp, a professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, worked with graduate students in his lab to create the imaging software that determines a food’s identity based on a photo. To date, the team has collected images of more than 11,000 foods that can be analyzed by the technology.
Visiting professor Ross Maciejewski worked with students to create a method that estimates the volume of food based on a photo, and another team used X-ray CT and nuclear magnetic resonance to determine food density so that the volume of food detected can be converted into grams.
There are already lots of cool weight loss apps out there, like Fooducate, which lets users scan a packaged food’s bar code to see its good and bad qualities along with healthier alternatives, and Calorific, which enables quick food logging and analysis based on a three-category food sorting system.
But Delp said that what makes the TADA app unique is how it’s been tested in a scientific way to validate its performance. Having been in development for more than four years, the app has been tested by more than 140 iPhone users, according to Delp.
The next step is to secure a commercial partner that will be able to help bring the app to market.
[Photo from the Purdue University Research Foundation]