The Eatery App Is a Massive Health Experiment

A new iPhone app tries to keep users accountable for eating healthy by crowdsourcing ratings on their meals.

The My Eatery app lets users rate how nutritious others’ meals are. Photographs courtesy of Kay Steiger.

A banana is 97 percent healthy. An apple, 98 percent. A glass of white wine gets a rating of 65 percent. A chocolate cupcake with buttercream frosting gets a rating of 30. Quinoa with roasted sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and red onion earns a rating of 89. Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home beef stroganoff gets a 59. All according to users of a new app called the Eatery, anyway.

What it does: Users snap photographs of their meals, rate how healthy they think they are, and then rate meals from other users in the Eatery community. The goal for the app is twofold. First, it allows individual users to keep track of their meals in a way that’s less tedious than logging data into a calorie counter. Second, it allows the app’s maker, health startup Massive Health, to collect data on what people are eating and gauge how healthy people think that food is.

Our favorite feature: The near-instant feedback is great for users who might not be sure about the health of a given meal. Users generally get a dozen ratings within minutes. Really dedicated Eatery users get to compare how healthy they’re eating from week to week, with a push notification that lets users know when an analysis is ready. The app’s geotagging feature also tries to guess which restaurant you might be eating in.

Downsides: It turns out it’s pretty hard to remember to snap images of your food before you dig in. Sure, the app’s makers did a good job of building in push notification reminders, but they often come at times when you’re nowhere near food. There are also massive incentives to “forget” to document meals that you know will get unhealthy ratings from the community. (We found ourselves less than enthusiastic to snap the plate of nachos and several beers consumed while watching NFL playoffs.) Additionally, the data is only as good as the users who submit it. Dark or unlabeled photographs are less likely to get accurate ratings from the community. Finally, the app does little to ensure you’re getting a well-rounded diet. You’re likely to get high ratings if you only eat salads, but it takes a varied diet to make a healthy one.

Compatible with: iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 4.2 or later.

Price: Free.

Watch Massive Health’s video explanation of the app below.

The Eatery: Massive Health Experiment #01 from Massive Health on Vimeo.