Mobile Health Apps Reshape Food Industry - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Healthcare // Mobile & Wireless
09:06 AM

Mobile Health Apps Reshape Food Industry

Mobile health apps play a key role in educating consumers and could lead to a healthier, more responsible food industry.

15 Apps For Healthy Living
15 Apps For Healthy Living
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

More consumers are using smartphones to monitor their personal health and gain more control over their own medical records and treatment, and they want food producers and providers to deliver that same transparency.

The obvious way to do this is via smartphones and tablets. But the largest players in the world's food-producing community have yet to heed the call. Today, 41% of their apps are related to games and entertainment, according to the mNutrition App Strategy Paper by German firm Research2Guidance. The report found that only 11% pertain to health and fitness, while 17% focus on recipes. Meanwhile, small developers and food companies offer "real nutrition apps which are better at helping consumers personalize their consumption behavior."

Food businesses, including supermarkets and restaurants, must leverage mobile apps to educate consumers about the ingredients, provenance, and chemicals used in the production of food, said Elke Kux, analyst at Research2Guidance, in an interview.

[For more ideas to foster patients' involvement in their own healthcare, read Engage Patients: 16 Creative Healthcare Strategies.]

"The whole market is consumer-driven. [Food producers] are reluctantly taking it up," she said. "I don't think it's in everybody's best interest to be transparent."

Some are experimenting, however. For six months last year, McDonalds Australia allowed consumers to trace the origins of their fries, burgers, nuggets, or fish via apps and QR codes. The Track My Macca (slang for McDonalds) campaign, which included vignettes from fishermen, farmers, and bakers, was part of the company's transparency campaign designed to counter negative publicity spurred by the 2004 documentary film Super Size Me and complaints by vegetarians, according to Britain's Telegraph.

Public scrutiny has also forced food companies to alter their ingredients. Blogger FoodBabe instigated a successful campaign to stop Subway from using a chemical found in yoga mats and shoe rubber in its bread. In May 2014, organizers hope to attract more than 2 million participants worldwide to march in protest of Monsanto and genetically modified plants.

Nutrition apps give consumers more insight into what they're eating, Kux said, and as a result, they put more pressure on the food industry to reduce chemical usage, improve quality, and enhance health benefits.

Consumers will drive this change, but it won't happen quickly, according to Greg Eoyang, CEO of healthcare app developer daVinci (a subsidiary of integrator Intelligent Decisions). "I definitely think it's going to happen. I don't think it's going to be a straight path. There'll be a lot of landmines to look out for," he said in an interview.

Health-aware consumers can use mobile nutrition apps to determine where food was grown or raised and to better understand chemical usage as well as fat, calories, salt, and other stats. They can learn how farmers grow crops and get information about fertilizers and chemicals used in cultivation and other processes. As a result, Kux said, food businesses can expect more pressure to sell high-quality foods with fewer chemicals.

That's one reason players in smaller markets -- such as gluten-free, vegan, and other specialty foods -- dominate the mobile apps today, according to Kux. "Consumers' values are changing toward local foods and niche foods," she said. Prompted by the growth in followers of gluten-free diets, demand for "natural" or local foods, and more sophisticated palates, small growers and sellers are more likely to engage with consumers via apps.

"Smaller farms can easily be integrated as long as they're updated with IT, which they're not always now," she said. "You can have cocoa beans from niche markets." For example, consumers choose cocoa beans from small farms in Ecuador, which they buy from SMB e-tailers that detail the beans' and farmers' stories.

In restaurants, consumers will create personalized meals, combining items using each ingredient's nutrition, calorie, and price information. The completely automated system will reduce waste but require more flexibility in the kitchen.

Even fertilizer companies will become more consumer-focused. "Today small farmers are relying on wholesalers for information, and they're often putting the wrong fertilizer on their crops at the wrong time," said Kux. "Apps will make them more efficient, growing better crops."

Some healthcare apps, such as MyFitnessPal and RestaurantNutrition, provide this information, but it's challenging to get insight directly from food providers and restaurants. Healthcare companies may also advocate for inclusion of this data, Kux said, as they integrate personal fitness devices into patients' health programs. "I would expect more alliances and partnerships," she added.

Download Healthcare IT In The Obamacare Era, the InformationWeek Healthcare digital issue on changes driven by regulation. Modern technology created the opportunity to restructure the healthcare industry around accountable care organizations, but ACOs also put new demands on IT.

Alison Diana has written about technology and business for more than 20 years. She was editor, contributors, at Internet Evolution; editor-in-chief of 21st Century IT; and managing editor, sections, at CRN. She has also written for eWeek, Baseline Magazine, Redmond Channel ... View Full Bio

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
User Rank: Apprentice
6/2/2014 | 2:08:08 AM
Food in our life
As food is very essential for all living organisim to survive, the demand of food is increasing with respect to poulation. People are very health concious and like to take hygenic and organic food. Many people are busy with their life and have no more time to spend for their food. It is the best way to get sufficient nutrition from certain foods. Now it is possible. Our farming sector produce more organic foods which are good for health.
David F. Carr
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
3/24/2014 | 2:14:19 PM
Re: Cost of this data
Dean Ornish: "Obamacare turns economic incentives on their ear, so it becomes economically sustainable for physicians to offer training in comprehensive lifestyle changes to their patients, especially now that CMS is providing Medicare reimbursement and insurance companies such as WellPoint are also doing so."

- interview: The STAT Ten: Dean Ornish On Digital Health, Wisdom And The Value Of Meaningful Connections 
David F. Carr
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
3/24/2014 | 1:27:34 PM
Re: Cost of this data
If the accountable care trend succeeds in shifting the emphasis to prevention and wellness, money may start to flow from Medicare to support programs and supporting apps for moving people to a better diet -- keeping people healthy, rather than paying for another prescription. A couple of years ago, Medicare began reimbursing for the program Dean Ornish developed for addressing heart disease with lifestyle changes including better diet and yoga.

The documentary Escape Fire does a good job of laying out the potential for change from a sick care to a healthcare system that emphasizes health. I was able to watch it free with an Amazon Prime subscription.
Lorna Garey
Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
3/24/2014 | 12:23:36 PM
Cost of this data
One thing that may be holding food transparency back is cost -- margins are pretty thin except for the niche areas you mentioned (GF and non-GMO, etc.) where consumers are willing to pay to know where ingredients came from. I'm not sure we'll see such willingness for factory producers and restaurants operating with diverse and constantly changing supply chains. 

In Australia and Europe, laws on disclosing GMOs probably play a role in forcing disclosures. Hopefully we will catch up as IoT and other advances make this data more affordable to collect. 
User Rank: Apprentice
3/24/2014 | 11:03:36 AM
Food Apps for Recipes
There are a lot of apps out there, like the article mentioned, that give recipes but not a lot of apps that explain why eating certain foods cause diseases like diabetes, cancer or glucose intolerance. One good recipe app is Recipes by Ingredients, by AB Mobile Apps. Everyday health has several apps worth checking out.


D. Henschen
D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
3/24/2014 | 10:52:13 AM
Keeping a food diary will open your eyes
I met with a nutritionist five years ago because I was working out but not losing weight. The first thing he recommended was keeping a food diary. It takes a little work to log everything you consume, listing the calories and adding things up to make sure you don't go over 2,500 calories a day (for a man, 2,000 for a woman), but it will open your eyes on your eating habits.

Now there are all sorts of mobile apps that make keeping food diaries much easier, providing drop-down listings of foods with calorie totals and alerting you when you're going off cource. Fitbit, for example, includes a food diary feature. The upshot of my food-diary experience was a 30-pound weight loss, and it's something you sort of internalize after a month or two, so you don't have to keep doing it -- unless you run into trouble again. Think of it as small-data insight that pays big health dividends.
Study Proposes 5 Primary Traits of Innovation Leaders
Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Writer,  11/8/2019
Top-Paying U.S. Cities for Data Scientists and Data Analysts
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek,  11/5/2019
10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2020
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor, Enterprise Apps,  11/1/2019
White Papers
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
Current Issue
Getting Started With Emerging Technologies
Looking to help your enterprise IT team ease the stress of putting new/emerging technologies such as AI, machine learning and IoT to work for their organizations? There are a few ways to get off on the right foot. In this report we share some expert advice on how to approach some of these seemingly daunting tech challenges.
Flash Poll