In medicine today we have machines that can literally look through your skin and view your bones. We can tell who your parents are simply from a drop of your spit. Yet when it comes to studying obesity and diet related disease, arguably the most threatening maladies to our public health, we use technology undeveloped since the 1800s. The "gold standard" in dietary research in 2012 is a 3-day food record, which is scientific jargon for pen and paper.
In today's world, researchers are forced to rely on self-reported dietary intake data inscribed upon a lined sheet of paper as their sole measure of the behaviors, miscalculations, and potential bias each study subject may unknowingly contribute to the waning internal validity of the research. Each returned food record is an estimate of the food consumed by each individual, offering the investigators but a pencil sketch of what the subject may have actually eaten. This fundamental limitation hinders all dietary research and it was the main inspiration for developing PhotoCalorie.
Improving dietary research methods is key to our public health and it is why I co-founded PhotoCalorie with 3 others. It is a web-based photographic food journal that we believe can revolutionize the way diet is assessed, allowing researchers to literally see what their study subjects are eating in real time. PhotoCalorie users snap a picture of their food and enter a description, both of which sync with the investigator’s database in real-time, along with the nutrition information automatically calculated by our nutrition search algorithm which surveys our manually curated database of over 60,000 foods, enabling researchers to monitor their data in real time, and independently verify the study subjects accurately described their meals.
After years of hard work and reaching out to researchers all across the country will no avail, we are very excited to announce that PhotoCalorie is partnering with Dr. Ludwig's Obesity research team at Harvard Medical School to offer PhotoCalorie to each study subject in a 5-year clinical trial testing the benefits of a low glycemic index diet on obesity and health outcomes, as an alternative to the default 3-day food records. People enrolled in the study can opt to use the PhotoCalorie website or iPhone app to log their foods, giving the researchers a never-before-seen window into the actual eating behaviors of their subjects.
We hope that this can be a large first step in the right direction towards bringing obesity research into the 21st century.