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Crowdsourcing nutrition in a snap
Date:11/1/2011

Cambridge, Mass. -- Americans spend upwards of $40 billion a year on dieting advice and self-help books, but the first step in any healthy eating strategy is basic awareness -- what's on the plate.

If keeping a food diary seems like too much effort, despair not: computer scientists at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have devised a tool that lets you snap a photo of your meal and let the crowd do the rest.

PlateMate's calorie estimates have proved, in tests, to be just as accurate as those of trained nutritionists, and more accurate than the user's own logs. The research was presented at the 24th ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology, a leading conference on human-computer interaction.

"We can take things that used to require experts and do them with crowds," says Jon Noronha '11, who co-developed PlateMate as an undergraduate at Harvard and now works at Microsoft. "Estimating the nutritional value of a meal is a fairly complex task, from a computational standpoint, but with a structured workflow and some cultural awareness, we've expanded what crowdsourcing can achieve."

When Noronha and his classmate Eric Hysen '11 were looking for a real-world challenge to explore, healthy eating was an obvious choice.

"Nutrition is such a pervasive issue in our society, from counting calories at the dinner table to burning them on the treadmill," says Hysen, who now works at Google. "People worry about whether they're doing the right thing. It seemed like a really good opportunity for crowdsourcing to make a difference."

Often, individuals who claim they are trying to lose weight will underestimate their caloric intake, so PlateMate's advantage is that it allows the user to quickly consult impartial observers, without having to pay for the advice and supervision of an expert nutritionist.

Reproducing the accuracy of an expert in a crowd of untrained strangers, how
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Contact: Caroline Perry
cperry@seas.harvard.edu
617-496-1351
Harvard University
Source:Eurekalert  

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